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The Secret History of America's 
Thirty- Year Conflict with Iran 



The Penguin Press 

New York 



Published by the Penguin Group 

Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson 
Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A. 
Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Aven- 
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2Y3 (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada 
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First published in 2012 by The Penguin 

a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. 

Copyright © David Crist, 2012 

All rights reserved 

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Public- 
ation Data 

Crist, David. 

The twilight war : the secret history of 
America's thirty-year conflict with Iran / 
David Crist. 

p. cm. 

Includes bibliographical references and 

ISBN: 978-1-101-57234-4 

1. United States— Foreign relations— Iran. 
2. Iran— Foreign relations— United States. 3. 
United States— Military relations— Iran. 4. 
Iran— Military relations— United States. 5. 
Espionage, American— History. 6. United 
States. Central Intelligence Agency. 7. Espi- 
onage, Iranian— History. 8. United 
States— Foreign relations— 1981-1989. 9. 
United States— Foreign relations— 1989- I. 

E183.8.I55C75 2012 



Printed in the United States of America 

13579 10 8642 


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For my family 



one. "A Little King in Your Heart" 

two. A New Grand Strategy 

three. Barbed-Wire Bob 

four. A Den of Spies 

five. A Fig Leaf of Neutrality 

six. Sharon's Grand Design 

seven. A Spectacular Action 

eight. The American Hamlet 

nine. Sleepy Hollow 

ten. Arms for the Ayatollah 

eleven. A Ring on the American Finger 

twelve. The Wake-Up Call 



fifteen. The Night Stalkers 
sixteen. A Very Close Call 
seventeen. no higher honor 
eighteen. good-bye, captain nasty 
nineteen. t/he terrible climax 
twenty. Goodwill Begets Goodwill 



twenty-six. A Quasi-War 

twenty-seven. an extended hand and a 
Closed Fist 








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-tLvery day one fifth of the world's oil ex- 
ports flow through the twenty-mile-wide 
Strait of Hormuz that links the Persian Gulf 
with the outside world. Since 1949 the U.S. 
Navy has patrolled this waterway, projecting 
American power and ensuring the continu- 
ous flow of the lifeblood of the world's eco- 
nomy. There are few areas regarding which 
the United States has more firmly committed 
its blood and treasure to safeguard its in- 
terests. In the past twenty-five years, the 

United States has fought three wars in the 
area: two in Iraq and one, the subject of this 
book, a still ongoing struggle against Iran. 

This strategically vital body of water can 
be an uninviting place. When the wind kicks 
up, the blowing sand and dust create a haze 
that blurs the horizon and the muddy waters 
into one seamless brown tapestry. If you add 
in the tangled clusters of poisonous sea 
snakes and temperatures in excess of 120 de- 
grees and humidity to match, there are few 
places that American servicemen and -wo- 
men serve that are as inhospitable as the 
Persian Gulf. 

The morning of April 4, 2003, broke better 
than many. A strong sea breeze and brilliant 
sunrise portended well for the day's mission. 
The American invasion of Iraq was two 
weeks old. As a major in the marines corps, I 
sat off the entrance to the Shatt al-Arab— a 
wide river formed by the confluence of the 
Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which serves as 

the border between Iran and Iraq. I was em- 
barked on board one of the strangest ships in 
the navy's inventory: a giant catamaran. 
Built as a high-speed ferry, it had a cav- 
ernous interior of car ramps and was still re- 
plete with a bar and stadium seats for pas- 
sengers to relax and enjoy cocktails. Sailors 
replaced the booze with cases of bottled wa- 
ter and juice, and a sophisticated command 
center occupied half of the lounge, with 
chairs and tables removed for banks of com- 
puters and a large screen that showed in 
blue, red, and green military symbols the 
real-time locations of every U.S., Iraqi, and 
Iranian ship and plane in the area. I 
happened to be one of the few marines as- 
signed to the navy's elite SEALs. As a reserv- 
ist, I had been recalled to active duty by Spe- 
cial Operations Command to deploy with this 
group under an energetic captain named 
Robert Harward. I had served under him the 
year before when special operations forces 

led the way into Afghanistan after 9/11 and 
hunted the Taliban and al-Qaeda, which 
were hiding out in caves and farms across 
the rugged southeastern parts of that harsh 
land. This time, our mission was to drop off 
four small, heavily armed boats to transit the 
Shatt al-Arab all the way up to the second- 
largest city in Iraq, the important port city of 
Basra. The point of the operation was to as- 
sert American freedom of navigation and to 
search for possible suicide boats that the 
navy worried would spring out of the inlets 
and repeat the disaster of the USS Cole a few 
years earlier. 

This was not my first war in the Middle 
East. I spent eight months baking under the 
desert sun during the first war against Sad- 
dam Hussein in 1991. Then I had been as- 
signed to a marine armor reconnaissance 
battalion under the command of a future 
general named Keith Holcomb. He had been 
a United Nations observer in south Lebanon, 

knew Arabic, and engrossed me with stories 
of the guerrilla war being waged by a Shia 
group called Hezbollah, or Party of God, 
against the modern Israeli army. The entire 
experience spurred my interest in the Middle 
East. After the war, I went back to graduate 
school for a doctorate in modern Middle East 
history during the decade-long lull between 
the two Iraqi conflicts. 

I had more of an awareness than many of 
my military contemporaries of the tortured 
relations between the United States and 
Iran. During the 1980s, my father, a four- 
star marine general named George Crist, 
commanded U.S. Central Com- 
mand— CENTCOM, as it's commonly abbre- 
viated—with responsibility for all the Amer- 
ican forces in the Middle East. At the time, 
the Soviet Union dominated Washington's 
thinking and Europe, not the Middle East, 
was our army's most important theater. But 
my father and CENTCOM had been involved 

in a strange conflict with Iran, best described 
as a guerrilla war at sea, a struggle waged by 
covert naval mining from dhows and hit and 
run attacks against American convoys by a 
mosquito fleet of fast boats manned by ag- 
gressive Revolutionary Guards. The United 
States and Iran engaged in this quasi-war for 
nearly two years, culminating in the U.S. 
Navy's largest surface battle since the Second 
World War, all while the Pentagon worried 
more about fending off hordes of Soviet 
tanks on the plains of central Europe than 
Iran. However, over the past thirty years, the 
Persians and not the Russians proved to be 
the more enduring threat for the United 

When I looked for a dissertation topic, I 
discovered this largely unknown secret war 
with Iran. I spent the next five years re- 
searching and writing the story of this first 
war with Iran and how it fit into the larger 

context of President Ronald Reagan's policy 
for the Middle East. 

Iran, however, was not on my mind as 
dawn broke over the blue Gulf waters on the 
morning of April 4, 2003. Inside the com- 
mand center of the catamaran turned war- 
ship, I watched as our four gunboats 
puttered north, into the Shatt al-Arab, 
threading carefully the divide between Iran 
and Iraq. Harward was worried about pro- 
voking Iran. He took pains to avoid a con- 
frontation, placing a Farsi-speaking SEAL in 
the lead boat and ordering the small flotilla 
well within Iraqi territorial waters, so much 
so that they ran aground several times. We 
even erected a makeshift Iranian flag on one 
of the boats, which Harward felt would dis- 
play our peaceful intentions. The Iranian 
Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps respon- 
ded by sending four small boats toward us at 
high speed, the largest being a fast Swedish- 
built Boghammer, which resembles a 

cigarette boat, outfitted with a twin-barrel 
machine gun on its bow. It was this same 
boat that had been the bane of the U.S. Navy 
during my father's time fifteen years earlier. 
With rooster tails of white water, the boats 
came barreling over to the Iraqi side of the 
waterway, surrounded us, and took the tarp 
off at least one multiple rocket launcher and 
pointed it directly at our lead boat. A major 
shootout with Iraq's powerful Persian neigh- 
bor appeared imminent. Suddenly, my re- 
search on Iran no longer seemed so 

What I did not know until later, while re- 
searching this book, was how little 
CENTCOM or the civilians in the Pentagon 
had bothered to consider Iran when plan- 
ning to remove Saddam Hussein. The incid- 
ent with the Iranians off the Iraqi coast 
should have come as no surprise. This would 
not be the only oversight in what was one of 
the worst planned campaigns ever executed 

by the U.S. military. When the last U.S. 
troops withdrew in December 2011, nearly 
five hundred Americans had died at the 
hands of the Iranian -backed militias, and the 
nature of the democratically elected Iraqi 
government, achieved at the cost of so much 
American blood and treasure, had been 
brokered in Tehran. 

1 he twilight hours hold special signific- 
ance in warfare. Your eyes are not acclimated 
to the changing light, and normal body cycles 
make soldiers less alert. I had this drilled in- 
to me as an aspiring marine corps officer. As 
dusk approached following a day of trudging 
around the woods of Quantico, Virginia, the 
last hour spent struggling to dig a fighting 
hole through a maze of roots with a small 
folding shovel that was frustratingly inad- 
equate for the task, a captain suddenly 
hollered, "Stand to!" As the setting sun cast 

long shadows across the forest, I dropped in- 
to my partially dug pit and pointed my rifle 
out into the brush and trees. "You are always 
most vulnerable to enemy attack during the 
periods of morning nautical twilight and 
evening nautical twilight," the instructor 
said, as part of a well-rehearsed lesson on 
tactics. "Dusk and dawn are transition peri- 
ods," he continued, with matter-of-fact 

In 1987, when I attended the Basic School, 
a six-month-long school mandatory for all 
newly minted marine second lieutenants, 
many officers and senior enlisted had served 
in Vietnam. The lessons of that conflict, 
where the Vietcong frequently struck during 
twilight hours, had been seared into the col- 
lective memory of the service. Although with 
current technology a modern military can at- 
tack even on moonless nights or at the peak 
of the midday sun, the idea remains a valid 
military tactic. In July 2008, one of the worst 

attacks inflicted on the U.S. Army occurred 
just as the first hint of light appeared in the 
eastern sky of Afghanistan, when the Taliban 
struck a remote outpost, killing and 
wounding thirty-six soldiers. While no one 
attacked us during the training exercise in 
Quantico, the point stuck with me. 

Twilight is an accurate metaphor for the 
current state of affairs between the United 
States and Iran. With no diplomatic ties and 
only occasional meetings in dark corners of 
hotel bars and through shadowy intermedi- 
aries, neither side has an accurate view of the 
other. The United States lacks clarity about 
Iranian leaders and the complex structure of 
the Iranian government. Meanwhile, Iran 
grows increasingly isolated and ignorant 
about the United States. This gray zone is 
dangerous. The threat of miscalculation is 
great and the military consequences can be 
grave. For three decades, the two nations 
have been suspended between war and 

peace. At various times, relations have 
moved from the light of peace to the dark- 
ness of war. But in the end, 2012 still looks 
remarkably like 1979, with the two nations 
still at loggerheads. 

Both countries bear some culpability for 
perpetuating this conflict. The Iranian Re- 
volution was born from anti-Americanism. 
The leaders who spearheaded that move- 
ment thirty years ago remain in power and 
see little need to change their stance. Hard 
liners in Iran reject the status quo of Americ- 
an supremacy in the region. With each chant 
of "Death to America," they hope to reinvig- 
orate the same fervor that swept them into 
power and tossed out an unpopular dictator, 
the shah of Iran, who had been imposed by 
the United States in a coup in 1953. While in 
this conflict the United States remains 
largely the good guy, it has not always been 
the perfect guy. Both Bush administrations 
dismissed Iranian goodwill gestures and 

refused to accept any dialogue that ad- 
dressed Iran's legitimate security concerns. 
The United States supported Saddam Hus- 
sein and his Arab bankrollers in a bloody war 
against the Islamic Republic that killed sev- 
eral hundred thousand Iranian soldiers. The 
mantra of regime change remains a frequent 
slogan in many quarters in Washington. Un- 
fortunately, Iran's response to these tres- 
passes has invariably been to use the tools of 
the terrorist: an exploding car bomb on a 
crowded street or a plot to kill a diplomat in 
a popular Washington restaurant. 

he research for this book, which in- 
cluded more than four hundred interviews, 
started in 1994 when I first traveled to the 
Tampa headquarters of CENTCOM to speak 
with officers charged with running this Irani- 
an cold war from a worn, mazelike building 
at MacDill Air Force Base. I traveled to the 

backstreets of south Lebanon Shia neighbor- 
hoods and to the posh capitals of the Persian 
Gulf states interviewing Iranians and Arabs 
involved in the story. I went through my 
father's papers and then the first of many 
linear feet of other personal papers and offi- 
cial records. 

While the focus of the book changed as 
time passed and history continued to unfold, 
the essence of the story has remained: the 
two countries have been engaged in a largely 
unknown quasi-war since the Iranian Re- 
volution in 1979. Six different American 
presidents have faced a seemingly intract- 
able foe in Tehran. Each had a defining event 
that pushed the two countries like a pinball 
back and forth between rapprochement and 
war. What I found myself involved in on that 
April morning in the northern Gulf was the 
latest chapter in the ongoing saga of this 
shadowy conflict. 

This story continues to unfold. As of this 
writing, Iran has threatened to close the 
Strait of Hormuz, and the two countries 
seem headed to the dark side of military con- 
flict over Iran's nuclear program. The saga is 
seemingly playing on an endless loop. After 
reading one recent memo outlining the Bush 
administration's policies toward building an 
Arab coalition against Iran, as I relayed to 
the marine deputy commander at 
CENTCOM, John Allen, I could have inter- 
changed the memo for one that had been 
written twenty-five years earlier as his prede- 
cessor grappled with the same enduring 
challenge of Iran. Iran's quest for nuclear 
technology has heightened the stakes and the 
tension but it has not been a catalyst for the 

I have tried to tell the most accurate and 
complete story I could of this three-decade- 
long conflict between Iran and the United 
States. The story begins with the seminal 

events of the Iranian Revolution that decis- 
ively turned the two countries from allies to 
adversaries and continues to the stories be- 
hind the headlines of today's newspaper. The 
ideas presented in this book are my own and 
do not represent the views of the Depart- 
ment of Defense or the U.S. government. 

The experienced American diplomat Ryan 
Crocker said to me in an interview, "For 
Iran, there is no such thing as history; it is all 
still the present. We are the most ahistorical 
and they are the most historical" of nations. 
In telling this story, I hope to rectify this fact. 
It is a story in which I have been a parti- 
cipant, dispassionate scholar, and, most re- 
cently, an adviser to senior Defense Depart- 
ment officials. It is a war of the shadows, 
largely unknown, arguably the most import- 
ant and least understood conflict in recent 
history. It is the twilight war. 


A Little King in Your Heart 

At two a.m. on January 4, 1979, the loud 

ringing of the secure telephone jolted U.S. 
Air Force General Robert "Dutch" Huyser 
awake and out of his warm bed in Stuttgart, 
Germany. The early-hour call did not come 
as a surprise to the fifty-four-year-old 
Huyser. During a crisis, you worked Wash- 
ington hours. As the workday ended on the 
East Coast, it was common to receive a flurry 
of last-minute inquiries from the Pentagon, 
depriving you of sound sleep even if you did 
wear four stars. 

Slightly overweight and with a round, 
rugose face, Dutch Huyser was a product of 
the air force's bomber community. During 
the Second World War, he flew four-engine 

B-29S over Japan, and in the early days of 
the Cold War, he piloted the same plane, 
only now loaded with an atomic bomb ear- 
marked for the Soviet Union. As American 
aircraft technology advanced, so too did 
Huyser's career. He flew B-52 missions over 
North Vietnam and assumed his current job 
as the deputy commander of American forces 
in Europe in September 1975. 

The week prior to his early morning phone 
call, Huyser had exchanged numerous calls 
with his boss, General Alexander Haig, and 
the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff 
and a longtime acquaintance, General David 
Jones, about traveling to Iran on a secret 
mission. Over the previous three years, 
Huyser had developed a cordial acquaint- 
ance with the shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza 
Pahlavi, one of America's most important al- 
lies in the Middle East. Now, with a popular 
revolution sweeping the country and the 
monarchy unraveling, Washington wanted a 

high-level military envoy to travel to Iran to 
work with the Iranian military, although to 
do exactly what remained unclear. 

The modern American military has pro- 
duced few generals as political as Al Haig. 
The onetime aide to the imperious General 
Douglas MacArthur had learned the battle- 
fields of Washington as well as those of East 
Asia. Haig deplored the Carter administra- 
tion's feeble response to the Iranian Revolu- 
tion and argued for a more resolute show of 
U.S. support for the shah. But more import- 
ant, Haig did not want his career tarnished 
by the debacle of the collapse of Iran. He de- 
liberately tried to distance himself from the 
unfolding drama in Tehran. When General 
Jones suggested to Haig that Huyser was 
ideal to convey a message to the Iranian 
leadership, Haig, the supreme commander of 
Allied Forces Europe and Huyser's superior, 
vociferously opposed the idea. 1 

At two a.m., picking up the receiver, Dutch 
Huyser heard the brusque voice of his boss. 
"Dutch, we lost. You're going to Iran.' - 

When he took the oath of office on a 
cold, bright January 20, 1977, neither Iran 
nor the Persian Gulf was on President 
Jimmy Carter's mind. He knew of the im- 
portance of Middle Eastern oil, but rather 
than focusing on securing American access 
to this oil, the president concentrated his 
policy initiatives on the root cause: America's 
growing demand for imported fuel. The 
emerging energy crisis became an early man- 
tra of his administration, and the president 
threw the entire weight of his office behind 
addressing the looming crisis, delivering his 
first salvo in a nationally televised address 
just two weeks after moving into the White 
House. Sitting in a wooden chair next to a 
roaring fire in the White House library, 

Carter wore a cardigan sweater and lectured 
his audience on the need for shared sacrifice 
regarding energy conservation. 

Carter followed that with another prime- 
time address three months later. On the 
evening of April 18, 1977, television viewers 
expecting to see the popular family drama 
about austere life on the frontier, Little 
House on the Prairie, instead saw a somber 
president dressed in a dark suit. "Tonight," 
he began in a sharp tone, notwithstanding 
the lilt of his Southern inflection, "I want to 
have an unpleasant talk with you about a 
problem that is unprecedented in our his- 
tory. With the exception of preventing war, 
this is the greatest challenge that our country 
will face during our lifetime." By the 1980s, 
the president warned, demand for crude oil 
would outstrip the world's reserves. Carter 
foretold dire consequences: closed factories, 
lost jobs, rampant inflation, and fierce inter- 
national competition for scarce energy 

resources. "If we fail to act soon we will face 
an economic, social, and political crisis that 
will threaten our free institutions." The 
looming oil crisis, said Carter in one of the 
more memorable lines of his presidency, "is 
the moral equivalent of war." 3 

X resident Carter inherited a Persian 
Gulf policy forged entirely on the anvil of the 
Cold War. One of the first crises between the 
United States and the Soviet Union had oc- 
curred in that region in March 1946, when 
the Soviets refused to leave northern Iran 
following the end of World War II and then 
moved tanks menacingly toward the Iranian 

capital of Tehran. 4 When the United States 
forcefully objected, Moscow backed down, 

unwilling at that point to go to war. 5 For the 
next three decades, while the United States 
focused its resources on confronting Moscow 

in Central Europe, the United Kingdom 
served as the major military power in the 
Middle East protecting it from Soviet expan- 
sion. The British had a large military pres- 
ence in the area, and the Gulf sheikdoms 
were still colonial dependencies. But in 
January 1968 Prime Minister Harold Wilson 
announced his cash-strapped British govern- 
ment's decision to withdraw all its armed 
forces and end 140 years of colonial occupa- 
tion in the Persian Gulf. As the Union Jack 
lowered over the newly independent sheik- 
doms, the United States, bogged down in Vi- 
etnam, lacked the military resources to post 

to the Gulf. 6 

So in the early 1970s, President Richard 
Nixon devised a new economy-of-force plan, 
unofficially known as the twin pillars 
strategy. America's Persian Gulf security 
would rest on the two staunchly anticom- 
munist powers in the region: Iran and Saudi 
Arabia. With Saudi oil money and its 

regional prestige as keeper of the holy cities 
of Mecca and Medina, coupled with Iran's 
military muscle, these two nations would 
serve as America's proxies to contain the 
Soviet Union. "The vacuum left by British 
withdrawal," Henry Kissinger wrote in his 
memoirs, "would be filled by a local power 
friendly to us." American security in the Per- 
sian Gulf now rested largely with the growing 
might of the shah's military. 

The shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pah- 
lavi, enthusiastically stepped into this role. 
Since his reinstatement on the throne, with 
the assistance of the Central Intelligence 
Agency (CIA), following a 1953 coup, the 
shah proved to be ambitious, expansionistic, 
and fervently anticommunist. He made it 
known throughout diplomatic circles that he 
sought Iran's ascendancy as the new regional 
power. Deftly playing on American fears of 
communism and fueled by petrodollars, 
which increased twenty-four-fold in the 

seven years from 1968 to 1975, the shah ex- 
panded the Iranian military to become the 

largest force in the Middle East. 2 The Ford 
and Nixon administrations sold some $12 
billion in weapons to Iran, offering the Irani- 
an despot the most advanced weapons, short 
of nuclear, in the American arsenal. 

The shah was not shy about using his 
freshly acquired military might to encroach 
on his neighbors. In November 1971, follow- 
ing the final British pullout of forces from 
the Gulf and the scheduled independence of 
its former protectorates— the United Arab 
Emirates, Qatar, and Bahrain— the shah for- 
cibly reasserted Iran's control of the con- 
tested Tunb Islands and the island of Abu 
Musa in the Persian Gulf. While small (Abu 
Musa is only twelve square kilometers), the 
islands are strategically located. Abu Musa, 
for example, sits astride the deepwater route 
leading into the western approaches to the 
Strait of Hormuz. Any oil tanker exiting or 

entering the Gulf must pass close by the is- 
land. The shah also backed Kurdish rebels in 
northern Iraq, as a result of which in 1975 
then Iraqi vice president Saddam Hussein 
reluctantly signed the Algiers Accords, which 
established as the southern border between 
the two nations the midpoint— and not the 
Iranian bank— of the Shatt al-Arab, a stra- 
tegic waterway between the two nations and 
an important entry for Iraq into the Persian 

Gulf. a 

President Carter continued Nixon's twin 
pillars policy, though with less enthusiasm. 
He initially hoped to demilitarize the Persian 
Gulf. Carter floated the idea to Moscow of re- 
ducing the quantity of weapons sold to the 
third world, a strategy that would include a 
drastic reduction of American weapons sold 

to both Saudi Arabia and Iran. 9 The presid- 
ent then proposed a treaty to reduce naval 
forces in the Indian Ocean as the first step in 
what he hoped would lead to an accord on 

demilitarizing that body of water. Neither 
proposal went beyond perfunctory discus- 
sions. Moscow steadfastly refused to curtail 
arms shipments to buyers in the Middle 
East, all of whom happened to be among the 

Soviets' largest weapons clients.— 

A fundamental split divided Carter's for- 
eign policy team. The two principal antagon- 
ists were Carter's national security adviser 
and longtime Democratic foreign policy ex- 
pert, a forty-nine-year-old Polish-born Cold 
War hawk named Zbigniew Brzezinski, and 
his sixty-year-old secretary of state, Cyrus 
Vance, who had served as secretary of the 
army and deputy secretary of defense in the 
two previous Democratic administrations. 
While the two advisers generally agreed with 
Carter's emphasis on human rights, they 
clashed on just about every other significant 
issue. The potential pitfalls associated with 
these two men and their rival philosophies in 
the same administration came as no 

surprise. Hamilton Jordan, Carter's youthful 
campaign manager, quipped during the 
transition: "If, after the inauguration, you 
find Cy Vance as secretary of state and Zbig- 
niew Brzezinski as head of national security, 
then I would say we failed. And I'd quit." 
President Carter appointed both men, and 

Jordan remained as chief of staff. 11 

The two men also differed in their views of 
the Persian Gulf. Brzezinski advocated a 
more robust American military presence. He 
viewed Gulf oil as an Achilles' heel of the 
West in relation to the Soviet Union and 
stressed the need to retain unfettered access 
to Middle East oil. If oil resources became 
scarce, the next battle of the Cold War would 
be not for Berlin, but for Riyadh or Tehran. 
Secretary Vance wanted to downplay the role 
of the U.S. military in the Gulf. The secretary 
advanced the prevailing view within the 
State Department that the presence of U.S. 
forces in the Persian Gulf would be 

counterproductive. In an area with a long co- 
lonial legacy and deep suspicions of super- 
power motivations, better to keep U.S. forces 
beyond the horizon than to increase the mil- 
itary footprint in the region.— 

The new secretary of defense's view lay 
somewhere in between. The forty-nine-year- 
old Harold Brown had earned his doctorate 
in physics at Columbia University at the re- 
markable age of twenty-two. A self-described 
impersonal and analytical man, he was a 
brilliant scientist and had arrived at the 
Pentagon as a member of Kennedy defense 
secretary Robert McNamara's "whiz kids." 
Brown had spent most of the 1960s earning 
the deserved reputation as a moderate and a 
realist, but when it came to the Middle East, 
Secretary Brown generally agreed with 
Brzezinski's more hawkish assessment of 
Soviet intentions. He shared Brzezinski's 
concern about Soviet dominance of the Per- 
sian Gulf: "Soviet control of this area would 

make virtual vassals of much of both the in- 
dustrialized and developing worlds." 13 

Despite this discord, the stakes remained 
low for Washington, as the shah appeared to 
be firmly in power and in America's pocket. 
In January 1977, the State Department's 
Bureau of Intelligence and Research pro- 
duced an optimistic report that echoed the 
intelligence community's views of the shah's 
prospects for political survival: "Iran is likely 
to remain stable under the shah's leadership 
over the next several years. The prospects 
are good that Iran will have relatively clear 

sailing until at least the mid-1980s." 14 On a 
stopover in Tehran in December 1977, at the 
end of his first year in office, Carter reem- 
phasized his support for the shah during a 
lavish New Year's Eve gala, noting that under 
the leadership of the shah, Iran "is an 'island 
of stability' in one of the more troubled 

lit all was not as rosy as the U.S. intel- 
ligence community believed for the Pahlavi 
dynasty. In the early 1960s, the shah actively 
encouraged modernization and seculariza- 
tion. He forced land redistribution, espe- 
cially of the vast holdings of Shia clerics, 
which struck at the heart of their wealth and 
power. The shah ordered state-owned busi- 
nesses sold; the enfranchisement of women, 
including their ability to hold political office; 
and the removal of Islamic dogma from 
schools. The shah largely dismissed Islam as 
a backward force that impeded the formation 
of a new, modern Iran. The by-products of 
his brand of modernization were rapid social 

change and increased instability. 15 While 
Iran's newfound oil wealth remained in the 
hands of a small elite, rural unemployment 
grew, and the population of Tehran multi- 
plied fivefold as peasants poured into the city 
in search of work.— 

In 1975, the shah canceled elections and 
abolished the two nominally independent 
political parties in favor of a single party 
dedicated to the Pahlavi regime. Any pre- 
tense of a constitutional monarchy vanished. 
The opposition movement grew, as did the 
murmur of discontent in the streets of 
Tehran, stoked by thousands of underem- 
ployed students freshly educated in Western 

From the beginning, one of the most vocal 
opponents of the shah's designs was a reli- 
gious scholar from Qom, Ayatollah Ruhollah 
Khomeini. Alarmed by Khomeini's unwaver- 
ing vitriolic criticism of the secularization of 
society, the shah had ordered the sixty-year- 
old cleric imprisoned in 1963 and exiled the 
following year. Khomeini settled in the Shia 
holy city of Najaf, Iraq, where he continued 
his incessant monologues against the "cor- 
rupt" Pahlavi dynasty and its chief supporter, 
the United States. Khomeini remained 

revered by multitudes of Iranian people. He 
developed a mystical persona among both 
secularists and Islamists opposing the shah. 
Khomeini preferred to stay above the politic- 
al fray, providing broad policy guidance and 
leaving the details to his key advisers. Many 
Western observers mistakenly viewed this 
leadership style as a sign that Khomeini in- 
tended to serve in the traditional role of a 
Shia imam: influential and powerful, but 
aloof from secular politics. Ayatollah 
Khomeini, however, had a clear view of 
where he wanted to take Iran, and it was not 
in the direction of either a Western demo- 
cracy or a constitutional monarchy. He 
called for a purge of all corrupt influences 
and for the Islamization of Iranian society. 
Khomeini believed history had shown that 
the throne was not to be trusted; the mon- 
archy needed to go. Ayatollah Khomeini in- 
tended to remake Iran into a new Islamic 

republic. The mosque would supplant the 
imperial throne. 

The shah's power began to unravel in late 
1977. Khomeini's eldest son died, likely of a 
heart attack, but Khomeini accused the shah 
and his secret police, Savak, of murdering 
him. A short time later, on January 7, 1978, 
an article published in a government news- 
paper ridiculed the ayatollah, questioning his 
religious credentials and even his sexual 
preference. Riots erupted in the religious city 
of Qom. In the resulting mayhem police shot 
several protesters; reports of the exact num- 
ber killed varied from six to three hundred. 
The streets remained quiet for the next forty 
days in accordance with the Iranian custom 
of remembering the dead, but when the 
mourning period ended, on February 18, 
protests over the killings erupted in every 
major Iranian city. In Tabriz events turned 
violent, and the government sent in the army 
to quell the unrest, killing more than one 

hundred people. In a recurring pattern over 
the coming months, each of the events was 
followed by a period of mourning and then 
another clash between protesters and gov- 
ernment security forces. 

Attacks grew in intensity and violence, es- 
pecially against targets seen as Western and 
decadent, such as liquor stores and movie 
theaters. In one of the most horrifying incid- 
ents, Khomeini supporters set fire to the 
Cinema Rex, a movie theater in a two-story 
commercial building in the port city of 
Abadan. Thick black smoke overwhelmed 
many patrons as fire spread quickly through 
the theater. More than four hundred people 
died, most of them incinerated while still sit- 
ting in their seats. In the Middle East, suspi- 
cions of conspiracy often supplant fact: des- 
pite the evidence against Khomeini's sup- 
porters, rumor spread in the Iranian streets 
that the government actually had started the 

fire to discredit the religious opposition. 12 

The rumor turned many of those sitting on 
the fence decidedly against the shah and 
marked the beginning of the end of his 
quarter-century reign.— 

The shah found himself in a difficult posi- 
tion. If he tried to crush the dissidents, he 
would face the wrath of the United States for 
his human rights abuses. If he allowed the 
protests to continue, it would encourage the 
opposition. 19 The shah did neither. On July 
22, he met with the head of Savak to discuss 
policy regarding the demonstrators. The 
meeting adjourned with the shah clearly dir- 
ecting that the demonstrations should be 
quelled by force and authorizing the army to 

open fire. 22 But his directive was never im- 
plemented as the conscript army recoiled at 
opening fire on the populace. On August 19, 
less than a month later, the shah shifted 
course and released 711 political prisoners, 
most of whom immediately joined in the 

street protests.— A memorandum from the 
director of the CIA's office for the Near East, 
which was responsible for Iran, summed up 
the monarch's difficulties: "The shah's efforts 
to modernize Iran have unleashed unexpec- 
ted if accurate strong forces of reaction that 
are not being contained by martial law or 

piecemeal concessions to the opposition."— 

At the Iranian government's urging, and 
perhaps to forestall a similar uprising among 
its own majority Shia population, the Iraqi 
government ordered Khomeini out of the 
country in a forlorn attempt to isolate 
Khomeini from the Iranian populace. 23 
Khomeini initially sought refuge in Kuwait, 
but the emir turned him away at the border. 
This rejection turned out to be fortuitous. 
Khomeini's close adviser Ebrahim Yazdi 
urged him to find refuge in a democratic 
country. Yazdi, who had lived in the United 
States, believed that a free press would facil- 
itate the spread of Khomeini's message. So 

Ayatollah Khomeini moved into a house at 
Neauphle-le-Chateau in the Paris suburbs. 
There, unshackled by the Iraqi Baath Party's 
authoritarian restraints, he found a more 
free-flowing outlet in the sympathetic 
Western press for his revolutionary rhetoric. 
In the first few months, Ayatollah Khomeini 
conducted more than 450 interviews with 
the press as part of a sophisticated media 
campaign against the shah. 24 

The protests expanded. Supporters 
smuggled cassette tapes of Khomeini's talks 
back inside Iran. Technocrats, democratic 
reformers, communists, and disgruntled 
merchants all joined in the growing protests. 
Oil workers went on strike, and the violence 
reached a crescendo in early December, 
when hundreds of thousands of protesters 
took to the streets. Meanwhile, Khomeini ap- 
proved sending small teams of supporters to 
Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon to begin training as 
guerrilla fighters for the long insurgency he 

expected to wage against his rival for control 
over Iran. 25 

1 he shah's troubles took official Wash- 
ington by surprise. Initially, the American 
government did not even consider the reli- 
gious aspect of the opposition. "There had 
never been an Islamic revolution before," ob- 
served the State Department desk officer for 

Iran at the time, Henry Precht.— Despite the 
fact that the American embassy in Tehran 
was the fifth largest in the world, few Amer- 
ican diplomats had any sense of the senti- 
ments in the streets. The shah effectively 
controlled the information available to the 
diplomats, and the State Department did not 
encourage Foreign Service officers to get out 
and talk to dissenters, especially religious 
leaders. As one political officer recalled, "I 

doubt if anybody in the embassy ever knew a 
mullah." 22 

The CIA devoted considerable resources to 
monitoring the Soviet Union and to tracking 
communists inside Iran. But the agency's 
intelligence-gathering effort had not been fo- 
cused on recruiting spies within Iran. "After 
all," as one retired CIA operative sardonically 
observed, "we had the shah's secret police, 

Savak, to tell us what was going on."— The 
two intelligence agencies did cooperate on 
tracking down the Mujahideen-e Khalq 
(MEK), or People's Mujahideen of Iran, a 
leftist-Islamist hybrid sect which had con- 
ducted a series of terrorist killings of Americ- 
ans in Iran, including the serious wounding 
of U.S. Air Force Brigadier General Harold 
Price in one of the first uses of an improvised 
explosive device in the Middle East. The CIA 
had developed biographical studies on key 

Iranian military and civilian leaders. 29 But 
for the most part, the CIA devoted its efforts 

to countering Soviet influence in the re- 
gion. 32 In a self- assessment of its efforts in 
1976, the spy agency reported that "generally 
speaking, reporting from the mission on 

most topics is very satisfactory." 31 

The American intelligence community 
committed one enormous oversight in not 
studying the shah himself. In 1974 Jean 
Bernard, a renowned French hematologist, 
secretly flew to Tehran to examine the Irani- 
an monarch, who was suffering from an en- 
larged spleen. Dr. Bernard diagnosed the 
problem as a serious case of chronic lympho- 
cytic leukemia and Waldenstrom's macro- 
globulinemia, a blood condition. 32 However, 
fearing that news of his ailment would leak, 
the shah steadfastly refused either to under- 
go additional tests or to begin cancer treat- 
ment. His ailment remained unknown to 
Washington, though rumors of the shah's ill 
health were commonplace in Tehran. The 
cancer left the shah increasingly listless and 

withdrawn. Meanwhile, Washington contin- 
ued to support him, blissfully unaware that 
the man upon whom America relied to safe- 
guard Persian Gulf oil was dying. 

1 he troubles in Iran divided the Carter 
administration along familiar lines. Brzezin- 
ski wanted the shah to use force to crush the 
resistance. He believed the United States 
needed to express its unqualified support for 
the monarch, and he advocated dispatching 
an aircraft carrier to the Gulf of Oman as a 
show of support. Secretary of State Cyrus 
Vance cautioned, however, that the Iranians 
might interpret a movement of U.S. forces to 
the region as a precursor to invasion; the 
United States needed to assist Iran in a 
transition from autocracy to democracy. 

The president himself remained torn, har- 
boring private sympathy for the democratic 
reforms sought by the shah's opponents, 

while recognizing the grave strategic blow to 
the United States should the shah be over- 
thrown. The president remained bothered by 
the shah's poor human rights record under 
which political dissidents were frequently 
imprisoned and tortured. But the Iranian 
leader had consistently supported both Israel 
and Carter's Camp David Accords, signed in 
September 1978 between Israel and Egypt, 
and his offer to assure Israel's fuel require- 
ments had contributed to Israel's agreement 
to withdraw from the Sinai and relinquish 
control of the Abu Rudeis oil fields in west- 
ern Sinai. 

Carter agreed to send an aircraft carrier off 
the Iranian coast to demonstrate American 
resolve, and he dispatched his dutiful but 
bland deputy secretary of defense, Warren 
Christopher, who would later serve as secret- 
ary of state (1993-1997) under Bill Clinton, 
to meet with the Iranian ambassador in 
Washington and inform him of President 

Carter's unqualified support for the shah. 33 
A week later President Carter penned a 
handwritten note to the shah: "Again, let me 
extend my best wishes to you as you contin- 
ue your successful effort for the beneficial so- 
cial and political reforms in Iran." 34 

The American ambassador in Tehran was 
an experienced Foreign Service officer 
named William Sullivan. Polished and well 
dressed, with a shock of white hair, Sullivan 
had served in two previous ambassadorial 
postings, including as ambassador to Laos at 
the height of the Vietnam War. He was no 
stranger to the dirty side of foreign policy 
and, while he was in Laos, had supported the 
CIA-led secret war against the North 

Sullivan agitated to open a dialogue with 
Khomeini. When the shah once told him that 
Khomeini supporters were "crypto-commun- 
ists," Sullivan flatly rejected the notion. The 
influence of Shia Islam was stronger than 

any Western-imposed ideology, especially 
the secular communists, Sullivan 

countered. 35 Khomeini supporters held the 
real power behind the opposition movement 
and would serve as a natural bulwark against 
the communist groups, Sullivan thought. 
Any post-shah government would require 
Khomeini's support to facilitate an orderly 
transfer of power to a new democratic gov- 
ernment, and the sooner Washington recog- 
nized this, Sullivan observed, the better for 

America's standing in the future Iran. 3 ^ 

Brzezinski rejected Sullivan's views of the 
situation in Tehran. It was not a choice 
between the shah and democracy, he told 
Sullivan: should the shah fall, Khomeini 
would inexorably move the new government 
toward theocracy. The national security ad- 
viser began backdoor conversations around 
Sullivan with hard-liners inside the Iranian 
government about a possible military 
takeover. 32 In an October 28, 1978, meeting 

at the White House with CIA Director Stans- 
field Turner, Brzezinski asked the CIA to 
look into developing information that could 
be used to undermine the opposition and 
strengthen the shah. Turner agreed, but he 
cautioned Brzezinski that many members of 
Congress looked upon the shah as so un- 
democratic that they would not tolerate a 
covert program designed to keep him in 
power.-* 52 

Turner responded a few days later. He be- 
lieved the CIA could help keep the shah in 
power for the short run and this might 
provide breathing space for the Iranian gov- 
ernment. But for the strategy to succeed, the 
shah needed to use "maximum force." And in 
the long run, CIA analysts cautioned, it 
would not solve the shah's problems. He 
needed to move more swiftly to establish a 
democratically elected civilian govern- 
ment. 32 

Undeterred, Brzezinski asked Sullivan 
about prospects for a successful military 
takeover if the shah was willing to use max- 
imum force to crush the opposition. In a 
tense series of secure telephone conversa- 
tions, Sullivan countered that a military 
takeover might be feasible, but every day 
that passed reduced the chances of a success- 
ful outcome. More important, Sullivan said, 
the cost to long-term American interests 
would be exceedingly high. Loss of life would 
be great, and this would scuttle any possibil- 
ity of moving the country in the direction of 
democracy. Sullivan again advanced the idea 
of opening contacts with the opposition, 
which the national security adviser flatly re- 
jected. Over the coming days, exchanges 
between the two men grew heated on the is- 
sue. They frequently shouted at each other, 
their arguments clearly audible in adjacent 

rooms. 42 

On September 8, 1978, a massive throng of 
demonstrators— largely unaware that the 
shah had declared martial law the day be- 
fore—gathered in Jaleh Square in Tehran. 
When the army moved in, the demonstration 
turned violent and jittery soldiers opened 
fire. While the true number of Iranian civil- 
ians killed was less than one hundred, news 
quickly spread through the streets that thou- 
sands of peaceful demonstrators— including 
many women— had been cut down in the 
streets. Today this day is known in Iran as 
Black Friday. The carnage horrified both the 
shah and the demonstrators, giving pause to 
the latter to rethink their actions. But as 
senior CIA Iran analyst and Iranian military 
historian Steven Ward noted, "The govern- 
ment then mishandled what possibly was 
one of its best opportunities to reassert con- 
trol." 41 With the opposition reeling, the shah 
opted for reconciliation. He dismissed secur- 
ity officials, released imprisoned opponents 

and replaced them with some of his own 
Savak agents, and ordered the army to fire 
above the heads of the crowds. Rather than 
placating the revolutionaries, the shah's ac- 
tions only emboldened them as he now ap- 
peared weak and irresolute. 

A few days after Black Friday, President 
Carter called the shah and stressed contin- 
ued American support as well as the import- 
ance of liberalization. The shah had it posted 
verbatim in the newspapers as a sign of 
American support. It backfired. To the Irani- 
an population, it read as though the United 
States stood behind a government that had 
just shot down tens of thousands of unarmed 
civilians in Jaleh Square, fueling hatred of 
the shah and his chief supporter in Washing- 
ton. 42 

1 o gain a better idea of what was going 
on in the streets of Tehran in early Novem- 
ber 1978, Stanley Escudero arrived in 
Tehran. Fluent in Farsi, the thirty-five-year- 
old diplomat of Mexican ancestry from 
Daytona, Florida, had recently served for 
four years in the embassy. With dark hair 
and a dusky complexion, he could pass as a 
local— perhaps not from Tehran, he admit- 
ted, but from an outlying area such as 
Azerbaijan. His previous assignment to Iran 
in the early 1970s had not been a particularly 
career-enhancing tour of duty. Escudero had 
annoyed his State Department superiors in 
Foggy Bottom by questioning the long-term 
viability of the Pahlavi dynasty. While he had 
not predicted the shah's current difficulties, 
he openly questioned the viability of rule by 
the shah's son. This assessment was not what 
Henry Kissinger and the State Department 
had wanted to hear. Compounding his im- 
propriety of straying off the policy 

reservation, Escudero had met repeatedly 
with the shah's opponents, especially reli- 
gious leaders. "Iran was too important to the 
United States," he later said. "I believed we 
would be better advised to have relations 
with whoever ran Iran, be it the shah or the 
opposition. This was not popular in Wash- 
ington." 43 Escudero, relegated to working in 
the then less prestigious Bureau of Interna- 
tional Organization Affairs at State, seemed 
destined for a lackluster career. But the 
shah's troubles revived Escudero's standing. 
In fall 1978, Harold Saunders, the deputy as- 
sistant secretary for Near Eastern affairs, 
and Henry Precht, the country desk officer 
for Iran, each asked Escudero if he would be 
willing to go back to Tehran to assess the op- 
position and the shah's likelihood of survival. 
Reluctant, Escudero answered, "You want 
me to go out and meet with the same people 
that got me into trouble in the first place, 

and tell you things that you know are not go- 
ing to suit current policy?" 

Saunders and Precht acknowledged that 
Escudero had been correct in his predictions 
regarding the shah. They added, "We don't 
have anyone else to send who stands a reas- 
onable chance of survival." Escudero decided 
to accept their offer. "I was young and stu- 
pid," he said with a chuckle years later. 44 

Landing in Tehran, he set about going nat- 
ive and infiltrating the revolution. He 
donned Iranian clothes and cropped his 
beard close in a style common among Irani- 
an men. To preserve his cover, he distanced 
himself from the embassy and traveled to its 
sprawling grounds only during darkness in 
order to provide updates to Ambassador Sul- 
livan. He lived in apartments of trusted Ira- 
nian friends, moving frequently for his and 
their safety. 

Escudero traveled to Qom and met with 
Ayatollah Sayed Shariat-Madari, an 

opponent of the shah, but less extreme than 
Khomeini and more favorably disposed to 
the United States. Posing as a journalist, Es- 
cudero met with religious leaders from 
Khomeini's camp to glean their views of the 
revolt, which confirmed both Brzezinski's 
views of Khomeini's true intentions and Sul- 
livan's intuition about the importance of the 
ayatollah in the future of Iran. 45 He dis- 
covered that the religious leadership played a 
prominent role in mounting antigovernment 
demonstrations. "The demonstrations were 
very organized," he observed. Wardens with 
armbands kept the crowd orderly, orches- 
trating their chants and keeping the mob 
unified. While the crowds were composed of 
a mixture of all the shah's detractors, the 
Islamic movement was the most organized 
and best funded. Khomeini supporters, such 
as a fluent English speaker named Mo- 
hammad Beheshti, the ayatollah's 

representative in Hamburg, Germany, 
played a pivotal role in orchestrating the 
protests. 4 ^ 

Masquerading now as a student, Escudero 
infiltrated the mobs protesting against the 
shah, where he blended in with the thou- 
sands of others, shouting "Death to the shah! 
Death to the shah!" and raising a fist in defi- 
ance as he joined the throngs confronting the 
Imperial Army. It was hazardous duty. Had 
the students or clergy discovered an Americ- 
an Foreign Service officer in their midst, 
vengeance would have been swift and deadly. 

It soon became apparent to Escudero that 
the shah's days were numbered. His reports 
reinforced Sullivan's opinion of the inevitab- 
ility of the monarch's overthrow. In numer- 
ous cables to both Vance and Brzezinski, the 
ambassador wrote that the only solution 
available was to push for a democratic gov- 
ernment before the revolution spiraled out of 
control and it became impossible to save 

anything from the disaster looming before 

them. 42 

Supporting Escudero's reports, on Decem- 
ber 12, 1978, veteran American diplomat and 
Middle East hand George Ball delivered a re- 
port on Iran to the president. Ball had 
worked Middle East issues for both the Nix- 
on and Carter administrations, and he was 
instrumental in helping Nixon develop the 
twin pillars strategy. Echoing Sullivan's 
views, he stated bluntly that the shah needed 
to act immediately to effect the transition to 
a civil government and transfer all power, 
except that as commander of the armed 
forces. Otherwise, Ball predicted, "he will 

collapse." 43 

Carter reluctantly approved his first covert 
operation for Iran in a final stab at saving the 
shah. The president had a strong distaste for 
these actions, but had finally been convinced 
to try a small effort. The CIA began a very 
limited psychological operations campaign 

to highlight awareness of the Iranian com- 
munist Tudeh Party's support for Khomeini's 
return in a forlorn hope to rally anticom- 
munists to support the shah and undercut 
the opposition movement. It failed and the 
CIA terminated it little more than a month 

later. 42 While Iranian protesters accused the 
American embassy of being a "den of spies," 
a senior White House staffer wrote to 
Carter's national security adviser Zbigniew 
Brzezinski: "It is supremely ironic that we 
should stand accused of so much espionage 
out of our embassy in Tehran when we have 

done so little." 52 

As Christmas 1978 approached, pessimism 
reigned in both capitals— Washington and 
Tehran. Emblematically, President Carter 
ordered the lights turned off the national 
Christmas tree behind the White House on 
the Ellipse to save electricity. The only carol- 
ing heard at the U.S. embassy in Tehran, Sul- 
livan wrote, came from "a rather scruffy 

crowd of teenagers marching by the embassy 
and chanting 'Yankee Go Home.'" 51 

vJn January 4, 1979, General Dutch 
Huyser arrived in the Iranian capital. As he 
drove through Tehran, he was shocked at the 
sight of the once vibrant city, now with stores 
shuttered and the streets empty of the usual 
bustling, chaotic traffic. 

In view of Alexander Haig's vocal objec- 
tions to his mission, an uneasy Huyser in- 
sisted that Defense Secretary Brown provide 
him with written instructions. When the 
message arrived just before his departure for 
Tehran, the directives were as ambiguous 
and muddled as was U.S. policy toward the 
crisis. Huyser was told to convey to the shah 
the president's continued support to the Ira- 
nian military as the critical link in the trans- 
ition to a new stable government: "It is ex- 
tremely important for the Iranian military to 

do all it can to remain strong and intact in 
order to help a responsible civilian govern- 
ment function effectively," the instructions 
said. "As the Iranian military move through 
this time of change, they should know that 
the U.S. military and the U.S. government, 
from the President down, remain strongly 

behind them." 52 Precisely what this message 
conveyed to the Iranian military remained a 
mystery to Huyser. Vance had intended it to 
inform the Iranian generals that the United 
States backed the transition to a democratic 
government. Brzezinski, however, intended 
for Huyser to give the green light to the Ira- 
nian military to stage a coup, declare martial 
law, and take over the government. The 
muddled language of Huyser's instructions 
represented a compromise between the two 
competing positions, but it left both the mes- 
senger and its intended audience utterly 

Huyser arrived at the embassy to meet 
with Ambassador Sullivan, the first of many 
such meetings over the ensuing month. "The 
shah is finished," the ambassador abruptly 
told Huyser. "The military has already de- 
cayed to the point they are incapable of do- 
ing anything." Ayatollah Khomeini and an 
Islamic government would be better than a 
military coup, and the sooner the United 
States began mending relations with the 
powerful clerical force, the better in the long 
term. But Carter had prohibited any discus- 
sions with Khomeini on the grounds that 
they might undermine the shah's tenuous 
authority. In response, Sullivan sent a com- 
bative message to Vance urging direct talks 
with Khomeini. "You should know that the 
president had made a gross and perhaps ir- 
retrievable mistake by failing to send an 
emissary to Paris to see Khomeini. I cannot 
understand the rationale for this unfortunate 

decision. I urge you immediately to join 

Harold Brown in this plea for sanity!" 53 

The next morning, January 11, both 
Huyser and Sullivan traveled across the city 
from the embassy to the shah's expansive 
palace to deliver the president's message of 
support and to discuss the Iranian leader's 
prospects. They found the shah looking hag- 
gard, dressed uncharacteristically in a dark 
suit rather than the military uniform he had 
worn exclusively since the crisis began. 
Clearly ill, he showed no vitality or strength 
to inspire confidence in his long-term polit- 
ical survival. 

After a bit of small talk, the shah raised the 
prospect of leaving Iran on an "extended va- 
cation." He hoped it would help calm the 
streets, apparently still dreaming that he 
might yet return to his throne after things 
calmed down. "When should I go?" he asked. 

Sullivan immediately responded, "As soon 
as possible would probably be the best for all 
concerned." The shah agreed. 

As the meeting concluded, General Huyser 
reminded the shah of a conversation the two 
men had had just five months earlier, at the 
outset of the shah's troubles. The shah had 
emphatically told the air force general that 
he would not lose control of power. "What 
happened, Your Majesty?" Huyser asked. 

Mohammad Reza thought quietly for some 
time, glaring at Sullivan through his thick 
glasses. "Your commander-in-chief is differ- 
ent from me. I am a commander-in-chief 
who is actually in uniform and, as such, for 
me to give the orders that would have been 
necessary...." He paused. "Could you as 
commander-in-chief give the order to kill 

your own people?" 54 

On January 16, 1979, the shah left Iran for 
Egypt on his "extended vacation." He never 
returned. Hundreds of thousands of jubilant 

Iranians celebrated until nightfall. As Huyser 
walked across the darkened embassy to the 
secure room for his evening talk with Wash- 
ington, it was extraordinarily quiet, but, 
Huyser sensed, "there was a different feeling 
in the air." 

Over the next month, General Huyser met 
repeatedly with Iranian military leaders. 
Huyser helped develop a series of military 
options to maintain order and ensure a 
smooth transition. The most extreme was 
Option C— a military coup designed to break 
any strikes and resistance, and to regain con- 
trol over the country. When Huyser back- 
briefed this military option in a secure con- 
ference call with Brzezinski and Brown, the 
national security adviser latched onto it in 
congruence with his long-standing support 
of a military takeover to preserve a pro- 
American government. "The coup option 
needed to remain on the table," Brzezinski 
stressed. "Could the army execute it?" 

"Yes," General Huyser responded, "as long 
as the army continued to hold together." 

Whether they would open fire on the op- 
position remained an open question, 
however, as the conscripted soldiers had 
shown no stomach for killing fellow Iranians. 
Furthermore, the shah had maintained tight 
control over the military leadership and did 
not reward generals who showed much 

On February l, Ayatollah Khomeini re- 
turned by jet to Tehran. Some five million 
people poured into the streets to welcome 
him. At Huyser's urging, the Iranian military 
provided Khomeini with protection, escorts, 
and even a helicopter to travel about the city. 
It was a strange spectacle, as the shah's mil- 
itary leadership ordered honor guards and 
protection for the man they all despised. 

On the night of February 9, Iranian televi- 
sion broadcast a rerun of Khomeini's return, 
inciting a group of low-ranking technical 

officers called Homafaran (the equivalent of 
warrant officers in the U.S. military) to 
protest openly against the shah at an air base 
in eastern Tehran that housed the Iranian air 
force's headquarters. The Homafaran 
clashed with a detachment of the shah's elite 
"Immortals" unit. The next morning, the Ho- 
mafaran forced their way into an armory and 
began distributing weapons to other military 
defectors and leftist sympathizers. Pitched 
clashes between the rebels and the Iranian 
army soon broke out all over the city. Events 
culminated in a series of dramatic attacks on 
February 11, a day still celebrated in Iran as a 
national holiday called Islamic Revolution's 
Victory Day. A mob stormed the Supreme 
Staff headquarters— the Iranian version of 
the Pentagon— and soldiers mutinied and 
shot dead the army chief of staff outside his 
own headquarters building. By the end of the 
day, the remnants of the old regime had been 

swept away and nearly all Iran's senior milit- 
ary leadership were in jail. 55 

A week later, back in Stuttgart, Huyser 
casually spoke to Haig about the latter's re- 
tirement plans. An aide interrupted with an 
important phone call from Washington. Both 
Haig and Huyser picked up phones; on the 
other end of the line were the deputy secret- 
ary of defense, Charles Duncan, Brzezinski, 
and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, 
General Jones. The men had just left a meet- 
ing at the White House in which the decision 
had been finally made to have European 
Command plan for military intervention in 
Iran. While the president had made no de- 
cision about executing such an operation, the 
U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division at Fort 
Bragg had been placed on alert. Would Gen- 
eral Huyser, Jones asked, be willing to return 
to Tehran and conduct a military takeover? 

Incredulous, Huyser privately wondered, 
"Why didn't they ask that question while I 

was in Tehran and the Iranian military was 
still intact?" 

"Sir, I'll consider doing it," Huyser said, 
suppressing his growing anger, "but there 
would need to be unlimited funds. I would 
need to handpick ten to twelve U.S. generals 
and I'll need ten thousand of the best U.S. 
troops, because at this point, I have no idea 
how many Iranian troops I could count on. 
And finally, I must have undivided national 
support." There was silence on the other end 
of the phone. 

After a long pause, Huyser resumed. "I 
don't think the people I am talking to are 
ready for that type of action, nor do I believe 
the American people would give their sup- 
port. The answer is obvious— it's not 

Brzezinski asked a few perfunctory ques- 
tions, and Jones asked Haig if he had any 
comment. "Nope," Haig replied tersely. The 
conversation ended and so did any further 

talk of a coup or American military 

While the new Islamic Republic wanted to 
retain the skilled officers to run the military, 
the government moved quickly to purge the 
Iranian armed forces of unreconstructed roy- 
alists. One of these was Commander Said 
Zanganeh. Of average height and balding but 
with a distinguished persona and strong 
bearing, Zanganeh had joined the Imperial 

Iranian Navy in 1964.^ In 1977, less than 
two years before the revolution, Zanganeh 
became the first commanding officer of 
Iran's new flotilla of French-built missile 
boats, each armed with advanced American- 
made Harpoon antiship missiles, capable of 
striking a target ship sixty nautical miles 

away. 52 

After the revolution, Zanganeh was 
ordered to attend a mandatory assembly 
with a senior cleric. "You all have a little king 
in your heart, and we have to eliminate it," 

the cleric told the audience of officers. While 
this was not said in a menacing tone, his in- 
tent was clear. 

A secular Muslim, Zanganeh had strongly 
supported the shah. He simply could not 
bring himself to work for a government he 
viewed as dominated by backward, un- 
educated clerics. After the shah's departure, 
he walked into the now empty office of the 
chief of naval operations and penned his 
resignation letter. 

A few days later a cleric, recently appoin- 
ted as a senior admiral, called Zanganeh into 
his office. "Why are you resigning? I've 
looked over your file and you have no politic- 
al association with the shah or his crimes." 

Zanganeh replied with a religious analogy 
he knew the cleric would understand. "I 
don't know Islam as well as you do, but I 
know that Ali was a great man. Nevertheless, 
if I were a married woman and Ali wanted to 
take me to bed, I still wouldn't let him." 

The cleric signed his approval without ever 
taking his eyes off Zanganeh. The command- 
er hastened out of the office, fully expecting a 
bullet in his head for his insolence. For- 
tunately, he left the building alive and left for 
the United States the following year. 

Ihe Carter administration wanted to 

continue normal diplomatic relations with 
the new Iranian government. The provisional 
Iranian government's first prime minister 
was handpicked by Ayatollah Khomeini: 
seventy-two-year-old Mehdi Bazargan. A de- 
voted Muslim but also a secular democrat, he 
favored continued ties with the United 
States. While scaling back consular services, 
the American embassy in Tehran remained 
open, even after a six-hour takeover of the 
embassy grounds in February by leftist stu- 
dents overcome with revolutionary fervor. 
Ayatollah Khomeini immediately ordered the 

students out of the embassy, not wishing to 
hand such a propaganda victory to the Marx- 
ists, his growing rivals for power. But that 
takeover was a precursor of things to come. 

When Sullivan stepped down as ambas- 
sador in March 1979, Carter nominated an- 
other experienced diplomat, Walter Cutler, 
as his replacement. But after the execution of 
a prominent Iranian-Jewish businessman 
who had close ties to the shah, and with a 
growing perception of an anti-Semitic atti- 
tude on the part of the new regime, New 
York senator Jacob Javits pushed through a 
resolution critical of the new Iranian govern- 
ment. This action sparked violent protests 
outside the twenty-seven-acre U.S. embassy 
compound, with the U.S. flag torn down and 
anti-American graffiti painted on the em- 
bassy walls. The State Department withdrew 
Cutler's name and, in June 1979, dispatched 
fifty-eight-year-old Bruce Laingen as the new 
charge d'affaires and senior American 

diplomat in Iran. A naval officer in the Pa- 
cific during the Second World War, Laingen 
had been posted to Tehran once before, in 
!953> arriving just after the United States en- 
gineered the coup that reinstalled the shah to 

Laingen continued meeting with Iranian 
officials to try to normalize relations. One of 
his major headaches involved sorting the 
status of billions of dollars, worth of military 
hardware and spare parts in transit or sitting 
in American warehouses— weapons destined 
for Iran. Not surprisingly, Iran wanted the 
materiel, while Washington showed trepida- 
tion, weighing the merits of sending military 
supplies to a potential adversary against the 
prospects that this new Iran might still serve 
as an ally against the Soviets. 

In a meeting with Laingen on August 11, 
Prime Minister Bazargan expressed the de- 
sirability of close cooperation between the 
two nations, but he stated that the U.S. 

government's support for the shah remained 
a strong impediment to friendship. Laingen 
replied that his government had no intention 
of trying to reinstall the shah on the throne. 
Bazargan greeted this assertion with skepti- 


In June 1979 the Iranian deputy prime 
minister had traveled to Sweden and met 
with American officials. The U.S. delegation 
included one of the CIA's best Iranian 
specialists, fifty-year-old George Cave. Tall, 
thin, and with a quiet, reflective demeanor, 
Cave was fluent in Farsi and had served two 
tours in Iran, his first in 1958. The group met 
to discuss normalizing relations between the 
two countries. Over the next two months, 
these talks set a framework for more sub- 
stantive talks in Tehran. The CIA dispatched 
Robert Ames, the national intelligence of- 
ficer for the Near East, to Tehran, where he 
joined Laingen and other senior State De- 
partment officials in discussions about 

improving relations. Here they met re- 
peatedly with a tough but cordial cleric, 
Ayatollah Mohammad Beheshti. Second only 
to Khomeini as the most powerful cleric in 
Iran and one of the main authors of the new 
constitution for the Islamic Republic in Iran, 
Beheshti was an important leader in the 
newly formed, shadowy Revolutionary Coun- 
cil. Established by Khomeini, the council was 
composed of mullahs and dedicated Islam- 
ists and served as the power behind the Baz- 
argan mask. Beheshti had little love for the 
United States, but he supported the talks on 

Throughout the autumn of 1979, U.S. ne- 
gotiators continued their secret meetings, 
making slow headway toward patching up 
their differences. The last meeting occurred 
in Algiers on November 1, 1979, between 
U.S. national security adviser Brzezinski and 
Iranian prime minister Bazargan. Brzezinski 
told the Iranian delegation that the United 

States recognized the revolution and had no 
intention of trying to reinstall the shah. The 
talks ended abruptly, however. News of the 
meeting leaked, infuriating student radicals 
as no one in the Iranian leadership wanted to 
be seen negotiating with the Great Satan. 

wn October 23, 1979, Bruce Laingen 
was sitting at the breakfast table in the em- 
bassy residence when a marine guard 
brought him an urgent message. The cable 
stated that the U.S. government had decided 
to allow the shah into the country for cancer 
treatment and instructed Laingen to inform 
the Iranian government that the shah would 
be allowed in strictly for humanitarian pur- 
poses. The shah was deathly ill and his sup- 
porters in Congress lobbied President Carter 
to admit him. The president had reluctantly 

Laingen knew that no one in the new Ira- 
nian government would believe this state- 
ment, and he raised strong objections back 
to headquarters. The situation in Iran re- 
mained precarious, and that country's popu- 
lation would greet with open hostility any- 
thing that smacked of renewed cooperation 
between the United States and the shah. This 
was a major blunder and neither Laingen nor 
the others at the State Department know- 
ledgeable about Iran had any illusions about 
the likely Iranian response: they would over- 
run the embassy. 

George Cave was in Paris when he received 
a cable asking him to return to Tehran to 
help Laingen explain to the Iranian govern- 
ment why the shah would be allowed to enter 
the United States. He phoned Laingen. 
"Bruce, I don't think there is much I can do 
to help you." 

"Yeah," Laingen replied. "You'd just be one 
more body taken in the embassy." 

"No one in Iran believed that the shah had 
gone to the United States for humanistic 
reasons," observed Mohsen Sazegara, a 
Western-educated engineer and early sup- 
porter of the revolution. "The United States 
backed the shah and would bring him back 
to power and overthrow the revolution. 
Everyone believed this in Iran." Rumor of 
the shah's cancer had circulated through the 
streets of Tehran for years. To the men in the 
new revolutionary government, Washington 
and its omnipresent intelligence apparatus 
had to know of the shah's illness. The sudden 
admittance of the shah to the United States 
appeared all the more nefarious, and Lain- 
gen's explanation sounded ludicrous. 

Laingen and Cave's predictions became 
reality. The first massive demonstration 
against the United States took place on 
November l. Some rocks were thrown, but 
little more transpired. On the night of 
November 3, Laingen attended a movie 

premier at Iran's foreign office for a new 
documentary on the revolution. Although its 
theme was anti- American, Laingen found the 
film interesting, chiefly due to its footage of 
mobs storming the U.S. embassy back in 
February. The next day Laingen was attend- 
ing a meeting at the foreign office when re- 
ports came in about students trying to scale 
the walls of the U.S. embassy. He tried to 
drive back to the compound, but the em- 
bassy staff warned him to stay away; the 
situation was becoming too dangerous. Back 
at the Iranian foreign office, Laingen located 
a civilian phone and notified Washington of 
the deteriorating situation at the embassy. 59 

When news of a disturbance at the U.S. 
embassy in Tehran arrived at Alexander 
Haig's European Command headquarters in 
Patch Barracks, Germany, newly promoted 
Marine Corps Brigadier General George Crist 
hastened down to the operations center. As 
the deputy J-3, or operations officer, it was 

Crist's responsibility to track current events. 
He picked up an unsecured phone and called 
the embassy to find out what was going on. 
The phone rang a few times before it was 
answered by a man on the other end speak- 
ing Farsi. Crist asked him a question, only to 
discover that the man did not understand 

"I need a Farsi speaker!" Crist hollered, 
sending officers at European Command 
headquarters scrambling to find someone in 
the building who could converse with the 
Iranian on the other end of the phone line. 
Of the hundreds of people in the headquar- 
ters, including the intelligence section, not 
one person could speak Farsi. After a few 
more minutes of incoherent discussion, the 
bemused Iranian student lost interest and 

hung up the telephone.— 

A group of students representing Iran's 
universities had conspired to launch a co- 
ordinated takeover of the American embassy. 

Calling themselves Muslim Student Follow- 
ers of the Imam's Line, they were inspired by 
recent statements by Khomeini railing 
against the United States. They decided to 
strike a blow against the Great Satan. While 
the shah's admittance into the United States 
served as the catalyst, planning for the move 
had been under way since September. Mar- 
ine security guards failed to halt the mob 
with a prodigious use of tear gas. Laingen 
pleaded with Iranian security forces to send 
personnel to expel the students, but none 
materialized. In short order, embassy staff 
had been rounded up and paraded, bound 
and blindfolded, before a stunned world 

Initially, the students had intended to hold 
the embassy for just a few hours. In some 
ways, it was the Iranian version of American 
student protests of the 1960s, in which pro- 
testers would occupy the president's office, 
smoke his cigars, make a few statements, 

and leave with self-congratulatory remarks 
about having stood up to the establishment. 

But the embassy takeover acquired a life of 
its own. Foreign Minister Ebrahim Yazdi 
called Khomeini and received permission to 
go to the embassy and order the students 
out. But the ayatollah quickly reversed him- 
self. He had no advance knowledge of the 
students' action, but the embassy takeover 
afforded him the chance to consolidate 
power and rally the public behind the Islam- 
ists at the expense of liberals and nationalists 
within the revolutionary movement, who 
Khomeini regarded as the chief rivals to his 
vision of an Islamic state. When Ayatollah 
Khomeini publicly endorsed the action, Baz- 
argan, Yazdi, and other moderates resigned 
in protest the next day. This left the Revolu- 
tionary Council and the Islamists in sole 
power, and over the next year Khomeini sup- 
porters moved to expunge the remaining 

moderates and secularists from positions of 

For the next 444 days, fifty-two Americ- 
ans, including Laingen, languished as host- 
ages, held by Iranian student radicals. Pres- 
ident Jimmy Carter froze Iranian financial 
assets, severed diplomatic relations, and 
tried through a variety of means to end the 
crisis peacefully. Carter took military action 
off the table as divisions emerged within the 
administration on how to handle the crisis. 
The national security adviser advocated the 
use of force, while Cyrus Vance worried 
about the consequences of such an action on 
the hostages. For six months, Carter sided 
with Vance. 

The strain of these challenges took a toll 
on President Carter. He reveled in policy de- 
tails. He impressed the White House staff 
with his sheer capacity to read and retain the 
information in towering piles of paperwork. 
He returned lengthy memos with his 

handwritten comments on the last page, of- 
ten replete with grammatical corrections. 
But this attention to minutia, especially the 
demands of attending to the hostage crisis, 
consumed Carter. He averaged five hours of 
sleep a night, arriving at the Oval Office at 
five thirty a.m. and regularly not leaving un- 
til midnight. He scaled back his daily jogging 
from five miles to three, frequently running 
around the White House grounds late at 
night. He grew increasingly and uncharacter- 
istically testy and often snapped at his staff 
for no reason. 

The United States tried repeatedly to ne- 
gotiate with the Iranians, but to no avail. A 
State Department report summed up the 
challenges of negotiating with the Islamic 

It is clear that we are dealing with an 
outlook that differs fundamentally from 

our own, and a chaotic internal situ- 
ation. Our character, our society are 
based on optimism— a long history of 
strength and success, the possibility of 
equality, the protection of institutions, 
enshrined in a constitution, the belief in 
our ability to control our own destiny. 
Iran, on the other hand, has a long and 
painful history of foreign invasions, oc- 
cupations, and domination. Their out- 
look is a function of this history and the 
solace most Iranians have found in Shi'a 
Islam. They place a premium on surviv- 
al. They are manipulative, fatalistic, sus- 
picious, and xenophobic. 

The U.S. military developed a series of 
plans, including imposing a naval blockade 
of Iran. A combative naval officer in the Of- 
fice of the Chief of Naval Operations named 
James "Ace" Lyons, who was destined to play 
a significant role regarding Iran over the 

coming decade, formulated a plan to use 
marines backed by carrier air to seize the key 
Iranian island of Kharg, through which 95 
percent of all Iranian oil flowed to awaiting 
tankers. The island was unguarded and relat- 
ively easily accessible by American amphibi- 
ous forces. "You take Kharg," Lyons said, 

"and Iran can't export a single drop of oil."— 

On March 20, 1980, following a meeting 
with Carter's principal foreign policy ad- 
visers at the White House, Deputy National 
Security Adviser David Aaron and Joint 
Chiefs chairman David Jones cleared the 
room of everyone but the small handful of 
individuals involved with military strategy. 
Aaron then asked about the blockade plan: 
"Would you just halt oil exports, or would 
you need to blockade all their ports as well? 
If the U.S. took such action, what would be 

Iran's response?"— 

CIA Director Stansfield Turner answered 
Aaron's question. "To be effective, it would 

have to be a complete cutoff of all imports, 
including food. It would have a significant 
impact on Iran's economy within two 
weeks." But Japan would be hit hard, be- 
cause that nation imported 10 percent of all 
its fuel from Iran. Turner added that the loss 
of oil on the world market and the ensuing 
crisis would drive oil prices up 15 to 30 

In response to Aaron's second question, 
State Department representative David New- 
som cautioned that a blockade would lead to 
a strong reaction in both Iran and the Islam- 
ic world, "which, in the worst case," he 
warned, "could lead the militants to start 
killing the hostages." 

Turner rejected that dire prediction, 
however, believing that such action could 
strengthen the hand of the Iranian moder- 
ates. The meeting ended with no decision. In 
the end, President Carter rejected the 

blockade option unless the hostages were put 
on trial. 

The only military plan Carter ever seri- 
ously considered was the rescue mission 
code-named Eagle Claw, using the newly 
formed elite Delta Force. General David 
Jones formed a new, compartmented plan- 
ning cell within the Joint Staffs J-3 director- 
ate to be known as Special Operations Dir- 
ectorate. Months of planning and training in 
the United States, Egypt, and Oman fol- 
lowed. In spring 1980 Carter authorized the 

On April 24, 1980, U.S. helicopters took 
off from the deck of a U.S. aircraft carrier 
with a cargo of elite U.S. forces intent on an 
eventual rendezvous with a network of sup- 
porters near Tehran, organized by the CIA, 
who would truck them into Tehran. Upon 
the rescue of the hostages, the entire group 
would gather at a stadium near the embassy, 

where helicopters would arrive and fly them 
all to freedom. 

Following a series of helicopter mechanic- 
al failures, however, U.S. forces decided to 
abort the risky rescue mission. One heli- 
copter had crashed into a four-engine C-130 
during a refueling operation at a remote Ira- 
nian desert airstrip known as Desert One. 
Eight Americans died. After the failed host- 
age rescue mission, eleven CIA officers who 
had infiltrated Iran fled, escaping via 
Tehran's airport disguised as businessmen or 
through the rugged province of Baluchistan, 
on Iran's eastern border, with the help of 
friendly Iranians. With them went Carter's 
presidency and any realistic hopes for rap- 
prochement with Iran. 


A New Grand Strategy 

wn a cold, crisp January evening in 

1980, a caravan of black limousines and their 
police escorts pulled out of the south 
grounds of the White House. Following a six- 
minute drive down Pennsylvania Avenue, the 
presidential motorcade arrived at the U.S. 
Capitol, its brilliant white dome illuminated 
in the night sky. Within the hour, President 
Jimmy Carter would give his last State of the 
Union address before a joint session of Con- 
gress and a worldwide television audience. 

Carter knew this would be an important 
speech. The day before, his close confidant 
and youthful chief of staff, Hamilton Jordan, 
had echoed this sentiment in a lengthy "eyes 
only" memo for the president: "In the next 

several months, you will shape, define, and 
execute a new American foreign policy that 
will not only set the tone for U.S. -Soviet rela- 
tions for the next twenty years, but will 
largely determine whether or not our country 
will play an effective role as the leader of the 

Free World." 1 

Jordan's intent was to outline a strategy to 
salvage the president's political fortunes. 
American presidential elections occur every 
four years, regardless of national or interna- 
tional crises, and the calendar is not always 
convenient for the incumbent. This was an 
election year, and on that night, January 23, 
1980, Carter faced mounting political prob- 
lems. Iran still held captive fifty-two Americ- 
an hostages, and the U.S. economy was in re- 
cession. The preceding month, still another 
foreign policy imbroglio had landed on 
Carter's desk: the Soviet Union had rolled 
three mechanized divisions into the remote 
Central Asian country of Afghanistan to prop 

up the mountainous nation's fledgling com- 
munist government. This new crisis porten- 
ded a grave Cold War confrontation between 
the superpowers. Domestically too Carter 
found himself challenged not only within his 
own party, by Massachusetts senator Edward 
Kennedy, but also by the likelihood of an 
even more formidable Republican opponent: 
either the former governor of California Ron- 
ald Reagan or the seasoned foreign policy 
hand George H.W. Bush. 

President Carter took the podium shortly 
after nine p.m. It was one of the most trucu- 
lent speeches ever given by the Georgian. 
"The 1980s have been born in turmoil, strife, 
and change," he began. "The region which is 
now threatened by Soviet troops in Afgh- 
anistan is of great strategic importance: It 
contains more than two-thirds of the world's 
exportable oil.... The Soviet Union is now at- 
tempting to consolidate a strategic position; 

therefore, that poses a grave threat to the 
free movement of Middle East oil.' - 

In the most important line of his terse 
thirty-minute speech, the president drew a 
line in the sand in the Persian Gulf: "Let our 
position be absolutely clear: An assault by 
any outside force to gain control of the Per- 
sian Gulf region will be regarded as an as- 
sault on the vital interests of the United 
States of America, and such an assault will 
be repelled by any means necessary, includ- 
ing military force." 3 

After months of vacillation and indecision 
in dealing with the Iranian hostage crisis, the 
American public and the press welcomed 

presidential resolve. 4 A Time magazine 
headline declared, "Carter Takes Charge." In 
Carter's first address on energy in the spring 
of 1977, he'd never mentioned the Persian 
Gulf. Now he was committing the United 
States to go to war to protect this foreign 

source of oil should the need arise. For a 
president who had come to power in the af- 
termath of Vietnam and prided himself on 
the fact that no American servicemen or -wo- 
men had died in combat on his watch, it was 
a remarkable transformation. In what would 
become known as the Carter Doctrine, the 
president had established for the first time 
that the United States regarded Persian Gulf 
oil as vital to the nation's interests, worth 
spending American treasure and spilling 

blood to defend. 5 

3ince the early days of the Carter admin- 
istration, ideas for a new military strategy to 
defend Persian Gulf oil from the Soviet 
Union had flowed in and out of the minds of 

the president's foreign policy team. Shortly 
after taking office, Carter had called for a 
major across-the-board reassessment of 
American strategy in the Cold War. Noted 
Harvard political scientist Samuel Hunting- 
ton had headed the review at the National 
Security Council, and he'd singled out the 
Persian Gulf as an area ripe for Soviet expan- 
sion, due chiefly to the tenuous character of 
the regimes governing in the region and the 
difficulty of projecting American power 
there. As a result of this review, on August 
24, 1977, President Carter approved Presid- 
ential Directive 18, which directed the form- 
ation of a "deployable force of light divi- 
sions," a military organization that could be 
deployed quickly, on short notice, to any 
global hot spot, be it Korea or, in the minds 
of Brzezinski and Huntington, the Middle 

East. 6 

This concept was not new. It had become 
something of a policy mainstay with the 

Democratic Party's defense intelligentsia 
since the Kennedy administration. Faced 
with a similar concern and responding to 
Soviet-"inspired" wars in the third world, in 
1961 Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara 
had directed the formation of a highly mo- 
bile force based within the United States cap- 
able of quickly reacting to any global crisis. 
To command this force, the Pentagon estab- 
lished U.S. Strike Command, headquartered 
in a new white-and-black-striped square 
building at MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa, 
Florida. 2 However, opposition by the navy 
and marine corps limited the command's ef- 
fectiveness. The marine corps viewed itself 
as the nation's rapid reaction force, espe- 
cially for military adventures short of major 
war, and parochially guarded this mission. 
The navy simply did not want any joint non- 
navy headquarters to control its ships.- Pres- 
ident Nixon scrapped the idea and ordered 

Strike Command disestablished. 2 

nitially, Carter's idea for a rapid deploy- 
ment force fared no better. Despite the pres- 
ident's proclamation, the idea languished in 
the bureaucratic netherworld, a victim of 
endless staff studies and overall disinterest 
within the halls of the Pentagon. Until the 
shah's overthrow, Pentagon planners contin- 
ued to recommend relying on "regional coali- 
tions," chiefly with Iran and Saudi Arabia, 
and selling more weapons to both nations to 
strengthen their military abilities.— With the 
nation still suffering from the post- Vietnam 
hangover, no one in Washington had much 
stomach for military adventurism in the de- 
veloping world or for a command solely ded- 
icated to that purpose. 

1 he chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen- 
eral David Jones, like Dutch Huyser, came 
from the strategic bomber community. The 
now fifty-seven-year-old South Dakota nat- 
ive and former B-29 pilot had once served as 
an aide to the controversial architect of the 
firebombing of Japanese cities, Curtis 
LeMay. As chief of staff of the air force, 
Jones had impressed President Carter, who'd 
selected Jones for the top military job in 
1978. Jones and Carter shared a similar ma- 
nagerial style— a penchant for 

Jones believed it was a mistake to divert 
military forces from the main Cold War 
game in Europe to the Middle East. "Unless 
Moscow invaded Iran," Jones told Defense 
Secretary Harold Brown after a formal brief- 
ing on the Middle East in September 1978, 
"the U.S. military combatant forces should 
not become involved in the minor 

contingencies." 11 In the absence of a crisis, 
there was no urgency to create the rapid de- 
ployment force, and the military dawdled. "It 
took a crisis to get a good idea the needed at- 
tention," Secretary Brown dryly observed. 
"The takeover by Khomeini had that ef- 
fect." 12 

On December 2, 1978, Brzezinski sent a 
classified memo to President Carter laying 
out his concern that the Middle East was 
rapidly becoming an "arch of crisis." "There 
is no question in my mind that we are con- 
fronting the beginning of a major crisis, in 
some ways similar to the one in Europe in 
the later 40s," he wrote. If so, this would 
open up the region for the Soviets to exploit 
and posed a grave challenge to American se- 
curity. 13 

Brzezinski's strategic view was clear and 
crisp. He excelled at distilling meetings down 
to the salient points, cutting off extraneous 

discussions, and moving recommendations 
quickly up to President Carter. 14 The nation- 
al security adviser believed that the Middle 
East was now inexorably linked to the larger 
Cold War. He argued that fixating on Europe 
missed the real dynamic: Persian Gulf oil 
had become the Achilles' heel of the West. 
The Soviet Union could bring Europe to its 
knees simply by cutting off Middle East oil 
and turning off the tap that drove the eco- 
nomic engines of Western Europe and 
Japan. With the United States perched on 
the precipice of political calamity as the Ira- 
nian Revolution unfolded on the streets of 
Tehran, Brzezinski proposed that the United 
States forge a new security framework for the 
Persian Gulf. 

Brown backed Brzezinski's vision. He 
ordered Robert Komer, undersecretary of de- 
fense for policy and the third most senior ci- 
vilian in the Pentagon, to conduct a complete 
review of the military plans for Iran and the 

Persian Gulf. A seasoned hand in Washing- 
ton, Komer had nearly four decades of for- 
eign policy experience. During the 1960s, 
simpatico with President Lyndon Johnson's 
Vietnam policies, Komer had headed the 
political side of the South Vietnamese paci- 
fication effort. The bespectacled Komer had 
a booming voice and a personality to match. 
During the Vietnam War, Komer had earned 
the apt nickname "Blowtorch Bob," bestowed 
by an exasperated Ambassador Henry Cabot 
Lodge, who said that "arguing with Mr. 
Komer was like having a flamethrower aimed 
at the seat of one's pants." Komer reported 
back to the secretary that the Joint Chiefs' 
planning was less than satisfactory; in fact, 

he told Brown privately, "it was very poor." 15 

It was not that the generals and admiral 
failed to grasp the importance of the Persian 
Gulf. However, the military was not eager to 
commit resources to the Middle East, and 
each service had its own rationale. As far as 

the army was concerned, the region diverted 
badly needed reserves from the Cold War's 
main game against the Soviets in Central 
Europe. In the aftermath of Vietnam, the 
U.S. Army had committed itself intellectually 
and fiscally to building conventional forces 
poised for a massive clash of tanks and artil- 
lery in Germany. With the large disparity in 
numbers between the U.S. and Soviet forces 
in Europe, the army's leadership deemed it 
imprudent to pull troops away from the Cold 
War's principal front. "U.S. forces engaged in 
defense of the Persian Gulf area will not be 
available for Europe, thus adding to the con- 
siderable risks entailed," the Joint Chiefs col- 
lectively wrote to Brown.— While the admir- 
als shared some of their army brethren's 
concerns about diverting ships away from 
the main effort against the Soviets— in their 
case, in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans— the 
Persian Gulf presented considerable chal- 
lenges for the U.S. Navy. Although since 

1949 the United States had maintained a 
small show-the-flag flotilla based in Bahrain 
called Middle East Force, the navy had little 
experience operating in this remote, torrid 
region. The Persian Gulf lay three thousand 
miles from the nearest naval base. The Un- 
ited States had no port facilities or logistical 
infrastructure to support large-scale naval 

operations in the area. 12 Additionally, and 
not to be underestimated, the Islamic pro- 
hibition on alcohol and its tenet to separate 
the sexes made most ports of call in the re- 
gion rather uninviting to American sailors. 

On January 9, 1979, Secretary Brown met 
with the five members of the Joint Chiefs of 
Staff— the chairman plus the head of each of 
the four services— in the "Tank," their con- 
ference room in the Pentagon's outer E ring. 
The room was just down the hall from the 
chairman's executive suite, along a long cor- 
ridor lined with offices occupied by senior 
military leadership and the chairman's 

dining room. The name of the room dates 
back to the early days of the Joint Chiefs dur- 
ing World War II, when the newly formed 
body met in a basement room of the Public 
Health Service's building on Constitution Av- 
enue. Participants entered the Tank by step- 
ping down a set of stairs and then passing 
through a narrow archway, giving the im- 
pression that one was descending into a 
steel-hulled tank, rather than a government 
conference room. 

Pressured by their political masters, the 
Joint Chiefs presented the defense secretary 
with a plan developed hastily by Alexander 
Haig's European Command. The idea was to 
dispatch U.S. troops to protect Saudi oil 
fields in the event of a Soviet move toward 
the Persian Gulf in the aftermath of the up- 
heavals in Iran. Called Operational Plan 
4230, it consisted of moving up to seven 
thousand men from the United States, with 
the first airborne troops arriving in as little 

as three days from their base at Fort Bragg, 
North Carolina. The plan was rudimentary at 
best. It required twenty days of preparation 
before they could even fly the first troops to 
Saudi Arabia. The Pentagon lacked both the 
aircraft and the ships to move quickly to the 
Gulf, and Washington had failed to lay the 
diplomatic groundwork with Arab countries 
that would be necessary to deploy American 
soldiers, even if Washington wanted to send 

Brown traveled to the Middle East to as- 
sess the situation for himself. He found gov- 
ernments in the region on edge, nervous 
about the events transpiring in Iran and un- 
certain about the American commitment to 
their security. To try to assuage their fears, 
the Pentagon had recently deployed a squad- 
ron of F-15 aircraft to Saudi Arabia, in re- 
sponse to a Saudi request. 19 Nevertheless, an 
anxious Saudi government privately pressed 

Brown for more concrete defense assur- 


Brown ordered the military to take some 
immediate steps to strengthen the U.S. milit- 
ary in the Gulf.— The Joint Chiefs answered 
with an imaginative scheme to conduct fifty- 
four separate military exercises. While many 
of these amounted to little more than send- 
ing a squadron of aircraft to Saudi Arabia or 
Oman to fly with their air forces for a week, 
or training on search and rescue techniques, 
or increasing routine naval deployments to 
the Gulf, it represented a significant increase 
in the U.S. military presence in the Gulf 
states. When staggered over the course of a 
year, these exercises were tantamount to a 
permanent presence of U.S. military forces 
within the Gulfs Arab countries, under the 

guise of exercises.— 

As the administration struggled to develop 
a new strategy, once again serious fissures 

developed within Carter's foreign policy 
team. On March 1, 1979, the secretaries of 
defense and state met with the national se- 
curity adviser for their weekly lunch date. 
The topic of the day was the Persian Gulf. 
Both Brzezinski and Brown favored an ex- 
pansion of American bases in the area, which 
would serve to support a military force that 
could deploy rapidly to the Persian Gulf in 
the event of a Soviet move on Iran. But Sec- 
retary of State Cyrus Vance rejected this 
view. A more visible American military pres- 
ence, he argued, would simply fuel anti- 
American sentiment, not just in Iran, but 
also throughout the Arab nations. The Un- 
ited States needed to demonstrate an interest 
in the welfare of the Gulf states, while at the 
same time keeping a low profile to avoid the 
perception of neocolonialism. 

Two days later and one month to the day 
after Ayatollah Khomeini's return, Brzezinski 
tried to force a decision in a top secret paper 

to the president. The crisis in Iran presented 
the West with a grave challenge, one that 
could spin "dangerously out of control." 
When combined with the Soviet forces in 
Afghanistan that seemed poised to invade 
Pakistan or Iran, Brzezinski wrote, pro- 
Western Gulf Arabs lacked confidence in 
Washington's ability and willingness to pro- 
tect them. Brzezinski proposed a complete 
strategic reorientation toward the Middle 
East. He called for a massive expansion of 
military bases in the region, with forces ded- 
icated to intervene to counter Soviet aggres- 
sion, and a permanent naval presence in the 

Persian Gulf. 23 

By the end of June 1979, the chief archi- 
tects of Carter's foreign policy had sketched 
the outline of a new defense scheme for the 
Persian Gulf, called the Persian Gulf Security 
Framework. The strategy struck a balance 
between Brzezinski's and Vance's positions. 
The United States would strengthen its ties 

by means of bilateral agreements with pro- 
Western Gulf states. The agreements would 
provide the United States with access to mil- 
itary bases in and around the Gulf, and the 
United States would sell more weapons to 
Gulf Arabs to enable them to shoulder a lar- 
ger burden of the defense of their oil fields. 
The U.S. military would position itself 
around the periphery of the Persian Gulf, 
poised to intercede directly into either the 
Gulf or Iran in the event of a Soviet attack. 
This approach respected the sensitivities of 
the Arabs, who wanted to work with the Un- 
ited States but did not necessarily want large 
numbers of infidels in the midst of the Arab 
heartland. The United States agreed to keep 
this strategy "low-key" and squarely out of 
the press while working quietly with the Gulf 

states to build closer military ties. 24 The De- 
fense Department focused on Oman, 
Somalia, Kenya, and Diego Garcia to estab- 
lish their first bases. Saudi Arabia refused to 

allow any U.S. bases on its territory, but with 
a nod and a wink it secretly agreed to over- 
build its airfields and military infrastructure 
with the tacit understanding that in the event 
of a real threat to the kingdom from Iran or 
the Soviets, the American military could use 
these facilities. After three years of haggling, 
the Pentagon would forge ahead to establish 
a rapid deployment force to serve as the 
principal intervention force for the Middle 

East. 25 

Great Britain gave permission for the use 
of its airfield on the tiny Indian Ocean island 
of Diego Garcia. The Pentagon spent nearly 
$600 million over the next four years to up- 
grade the airfield. The State Department 
reached an agreement with Oman for the use 
of four airfields and over the next three years 
spent well over $200 million to upgrade 
these bases for the U.S. Air Force and 

Navy.— One on the island of Masirah— a 
British Royal Air Force base since the 

1930s— was particularly well situated for 
American requirements. The isolated island 
lay fifteen miles off the Omani coast in the 
Gulf of Oman, but sat near the Strait of Hor- 
muz. Following the signing of a ten-year 
lease agreement between Washington and 
Muscat in 1979, the United States expanded 
the small runway and built a second one to 
accommodate combat aircraft. In addition, 
the Americans upgraded facilities and 
buildings, pre-positioning sites to 
accommodate twenty-six thousand troops. 
This base would serve as a staging base for 
the failed rescue operation in Iran in April 
1980, and would remain a key American fa- 
cility for the next two decades, including 
providing a base for yet another group of 
American special operations forces, those 
that went into Afghanistan in October 2001. 

Egyptian president Anwar Sadat quietly 
consented to allow U.S. forces to use his mil- 
itary bases. Egypt would serve as the logistics 

rear for U.S. forces defending the Persian 
Gulf and would be an important transit point 
in deploying troops to the Persian Gulf. 
Komer dispatched his deputy undersecretary 
of defense for policy planning, Walter Slo- 
combe, to look at the Egyptian facilities. At 
age forty, Slocombe already was an experi- 
enced hand in the Democratic defense estab- 
lishment, and in the coming years he would 
go on to serve as the number three man in 
President Bill Clinton's Pentagon and would 
play a key role in the decision to disband the 
Iraqi army in May 2003 following the over- 
throw of Saddam Hussein. 

After touring an airfield near Cairo, Slo- 
combe headed down to a large, abandoned 
Egyptian military cantonment at Ras Banas, 
a peninsula jutting out into the Red Sea 
about three-quarters of the way down the 
Egyptian coast. Built before the 1973 Yom 
Kippur War with Israel, the facility included 

both a large runway and a port. 22 The base 

was perfect, Slocombe thought. It sat astride 
the Saudi Red Sea ports of Jeddah and 
Yanbu, and would easily serve as another 
means to get U.S. forces into Saudi Arabia 
should the Soviets seize the Strait of Hor- 
muz. It sat out of range of Soviet aircraft, and 
it provided an excellent base for massive U.S. 
B-52 bombers as well as a mustering area for 
a U.S. Army headed to Iran. With improve- 
ments, it could serve as a staging base for an 
entire American division. More important, it 
lay nearly two hundred miles from the 
nearest city, permitting the base to be built 
in secret. Both Secretary Brown and General 
Jones liked Slocombe's idea. With congres- 
sional approval, the United States pumped 
more than $200 million over the next few 
years to upgrade the facilities, turning Ras 
Banas into a major hub for the U.S. milit- 


1 he decision to establish a rapid deploy- 
ment force touched off a contentious in- 
terservice squabble inside the Pentagon. No 
senior officer really wanted the new com- 
mand, but if it was going to exist, every gen- 
eral or admiral wanted to control it as well as 
the money inevitably linked to the new mis- 
sion. The army and air force proposed a 
three-star army general to command the rap- 
id deployment force under the Tampa-based 
Readiness Command, the successor to Strike 
Command, whose responsibilities encom- 
passed wartime deployment planning for 
army and air force units based in the United 
States. The army further added that it should 
be only a wartime headquarters, with the 
army-dominated European Command con- 
trolling operations in the Middle East during 
peacetime. Not surprisingly, the chief of nav- 
al operations, Admiral Thomas Hayward, 
took a different view. The rapid deployment 
force should be an independent force, he 

said, perhaps under the nominal control of 
Readiness Command, but with direct access 
to the Joint Chiefs, who would oversee milit- 
ary planning for the Middle East. This, the 
naval services hoped, would take the rapid 
deployment force out from under the army's 
thumb and position it under the Pentagon, 
where the navy would have greater say in 
running the command. Chairman of the 
Joint Chiefs David Jones came down some- 
where in the middle, generally supporting 
the air force and army, but with his penchant 
for micromanagement, he liked the idea of 
greater control over the rapid deployment 
force by him and the Joint Chiefs. 

As the summer of 1979 waned and with 
the military still at loggerheads, President 
Carter grew exacerbated at the impasse. 
"Who is in charge? PACOM [Pacific Com- 
mand]? EUCOM [European Command]? Or 
who?" the president asked Brown. The de- 
fense secretary tried to assure the president 

that they had made progress, but Carter 
would have none of it. The president 
scribbled in the margins of one of Brown's 
memos, "I don't see that any progress has ac- 
tually been made." 22 Brown too grew weary 
of the endless haggling between the generals 
and admirals. "The rapid deployment force 
was to be an extension of military power," 
Brown wrote to Jones, "not an excuse to jus- 
tify more forces or larger budgets." 32 

After months of debate, the Joint Chiefs 
forged a convoluted compromise. The new 
rapid deployment force would be a separate 
joint, or all-service, organization, under the 
command of a three-star general. The force 
would report to the Readiness Command 
and be colocated with it in Tampa. However, 
the command would maintain a separate li- 
aison office in Washington to allow direct ac- 
cess for the command to the Joint Staff and 
the senior leadership at the Pentagon. While 
not perfect, this was good enough for 

Secretary Brown. Two weeks before the em- 
bassy takeover in Iran, he issued a memo to 
General Jones ordering the new command's 
founding by March l, 1980. While primarily 
intended for the Persian Gulf and the Middle 
East, the new rapid deployment force would 
be called upon for "contingencies threaten- 
ing American interests anywhere in the 

world." 31 

1 all, broad shouldered, and square 
jawed, Paul Xavier Kelley looked like a mar- 
ine. His demeanor exuded an intense confid- 
ence. Born on Armistice Day in 1928, the 
fair-skinned redhead was both proud and de- 
fensive about his Irish heritage. Critics and 
supporters both agreed that P.X. could be 
emotional, and he frequently took profes- 
sional criticism personally, especially if it im- 
plicated his beloved marine corps. He was a 
devoted family man; the only priority in his 

life higher than the marine corps was his 
wife and children. After a command in Viet- 
nam, he served as military liaison to the Par- 
is peace talks that ended American participa- 
tion in the Vietnam War. This assignment 
gave Kelley his first strong dose of Washing- 
ton politics and American diplomacy. The 
latter, at least, left him less than impressed, 
as he observed the shenanigans of President 
Nixon's secretary of state and national secur- 
ity adviser Henry Kissinger. 32 

On a Friday afternoon in the fall of 1979, 
P.X. Kelley received a phone call from Gen- 
eral Jones's secretary asking if Kelley would 
meet with the chairman the next day at ten 
a.m. to interview as the first commander of 

the rapid deployment force. 33 The com- 
mandant of the U.S. Marine Corps had been 
lobbying hard to give the command to his 
service, and while Jones viewed this as a 
purely parochial move, the marine's argu- 
ment resonated throughout the defense 

secretary's office. 34 On Saturday morning, as 
Kelley prepared to drive over to the 
Pentagon, the chairman's secretary called 
again to relay that Jones had been called to a 
meeting at the White House. She was not 
sure how long that meeting would last, but 
could Kelley please just stand by, and she 
would notify him when Jones returned? 

"Well," Kelley answered, "that all depends. 
You see, I've promised my granddaughter 
that I would take her to see Snow White and 
the Seven Dwarfs this afternoon, and that is 
one appointment I can't miss." 

Fortunately for both the granddaughter 
and Kelley's career, General Jones returned 
to his office at the Pentagon, and P.X. arrived 
around noon for an informal and affable 
meeting with the air force chairman. Dressed 
in his dark green service uniform with a 
panoply of ribbons on his left breast, Kelley 
looked as if he had come from central cast- 
ing, and Jones quickly discovered that his 

mind matched his appearance. The chairman 
liked what he saw and offered command of 
the new rapid deployment force to the mar- 
ine. As Kelley left the office, Jones said slyly, 
"General, enjoy Snow White." The chair- 
man's secretary just grinned. 

On March l, 1980, the new command be- 
came a reality, now formally called the Rapid 
Deployment Joint Task Force (RDJTF) and 
located at MacDill Air Force Base, a sprawl- 
ing air base in Tampa, Florida. The base sits 
on a wide peninsula about five miles south 
from the tall buildings that dominate down- 
town Tampa. The sprawling air base of pine 
trees and palmettos is typical U.S. Air Force, 
replete with an eighteen-hole golf course, a 
marina, and a small but quaint beach, which 
looks out onto the placid Tampa Bay and af- 
fords a pleasant view of the cruise ships and 
merchants going in and out of Tampa. Estab- 
lished during World War II to train new 
bomber pilots, the base was featured in the 

1955 fil m Strategic Air Command, an overt 
piece of air force propaganda starring Jimmy 

P.X. Kelley established his headquarters in 
a large, square, half-buried structure next to 
the runway on a remote corner of the base. 
Numbered Building 5201, it was better 
known as the "molehole." Accessible by a 
single mile-long road, the molehole had been 
built in the 1950s to serve as a ready room 
and command center for nuclear-armed 
bombers waiting for Armageddon. As of this 
writing, it houses the Special Operations 
Command that runs the secret wars in Afgh- 
anistan and the Middle East. 

The new command took shape, despite the 
lethargy with the four services in filling its 
250-man staff. The Soviet invasion of Afgh- 
anistan fostered a crisis atmosphere in the 
molehole, with officers routinely working 
sixteen-hour days. Less than two months 
after the command's formal commissioning, 

Kelley held the unit's first full-scale exercise 
in the mountains of Idaho. A modest effort 
compared to those that would follow, it in- 
volved flying in a single army battalion in a 
simulated defense of Pakistan against a 
Soviet invasion. This was the first of a de- 
manding schedule of exercises across the 
Middle East, the largest of which would be 
Bright Star in November 1980, which in- 
volved sending some sixty-five hundred 
American troops for twenty days to the 
Egyptian desert in a biennial exercise that 

continues to this day. 35 

JVelley's staff quickly began planning for 

World War III in Iran. They saw two possible 
Russian invasion plans. One would be a 
quick incursion designed to seize Iranian 
Azerbaijan, either to support a communist 
coup in Tehran or to forestall the Islamic Re- 
volution from spreading to Moscow's own 

Muslim population. The second, more seri- 
ous threat involved a full-scale invasion of 
Iran by fifteen to twenty-four divisions, with 
the objective of quickly seizing the Khuzest- 
an oil fields in southwestern Iran as well as 
the vital choke point, the Strait of Hormuz, 

to cut off the oil flow to the West. 36 With 
Iran subjugated, as one U.S. war planner 
surmised, "The Soviets could undertake a 
subsequent offense operation against the 
Arab nations in the region." Soviet aircraft 
could destroy Saudi Arabian oil facilities and 
cut the flow of crude to the West. Red Army 
tanks would be poised to threaten Turkey 
and the southern flank of NATO. U.S. milit- 
ary planners worried that the Soviets might 
try a lightning attack, using airborne troops 
to seize the Strait of Hormuz, perhaps even 
parachuting down on the Saudi oil fields and 
conquering the kingdom in a coup de main. 

These American fears had an air of ab- 
surdity. Even if Moscow committed all its 

army coupled with extensive support from 
regional surrogates such as Iraq and Syria, 
Moscow would face a monumental task in 
conquering Iran, let alone the entire Middle 
East. The idea that the Red Army could sus- 
tain hundreds of thousands of soldiers with 
bullets, beans, and benzene over a thousand- 
mile-long supply route that ran over Iran's 
formidable Zagros Mountains seems ridicu- 
lous in hindsight, especially in light of its 
military's poor performance in Afghanistan. 
But in the panic that gripped Washington 
following the Soviet invasion into Afgh- 
anistan, no one in either political party ques- 
tioned the reality of their anxiety, especially 
in an election year and in an administration 
already lambasted for being soft on defense. 

Kelley's war plans for Iran hinged on sup- 
port from the Gulf Arabs. 32 American troops 
and airplanes would muster in Saudi Arabia, 
Oman, and Bahrain, both to safeguard their 
oil facilities and to serve as a staging base for 

a subsequent move directly into Iran. The 
U.S. Marines, backed up by naval carrier air- 
planes, would storm the beaches around 
Bandar Abbas, seizing the port and airfield 
and securing the Strait of Hormuz and Kharg 
Island, the latter location from which 96 per- 
cent of Iran's oil exports flowed. Once the 
sea-lanes into the Persian Gulf were secure, 
three U.S. Army divisions would seize the 
northern Gulf port of Bushehr and then 
move inland to take the strategically posi- 
tioned Iranian city of Shiraz at the foothills 
of the Zagros, and block Soviet forces moving 
south through the mountains, safeguarding 
both the Khuzestan oil fields and the Persian 

Gulf. 32 Depending on what happened in 
Europe at the same time, as many as two 
hundred thousand servicemen and -women 

were allocated to the Iran invasion. m 

Time became the critical watchword for 
American planners. The Defense Intelligence 
Agency, or DIA, estimated that it could 

provide only seven days' advance notice of a 
limited incursion, and perhaps three weeks' 
warning for a full-scale invasion. But the Un- 
ited States could muster only about thirty- 
five thousand army airborne soldiers and 
marines to the Gulf within the first three 
weeks, and planners both in Tampa and at 
the Pentagon predicted it would take thirty 
days to move any sizable number of combat 
forces to the Gulf. Under the best of condi- 
tions, time was not on Kelley's side in the 
race for Iran. 41 

However, Kelley had an ace in his deck of 
cards to buy time and halt the Soviet advance 
into Iran: nuclear weapons. The United 
States never shied away from planning to use 
nuclear weapons to defend Persian Gulf oil. 
Washington did hesitate to nuke the Soviet 
Union proper out of concern that such a 
move would lead to a full-scale nuclear war, 
one U.S. planners in 1982 surmised would 
kill 50 to 75 percent of the U.S. population. 

But Soviet troops inside Iran were seen as 
fair game. If the Red Army were poised to 
win the race for the Strait of Hormuz, tactical 
nuclear weapons would be the force of choice 
to stop them. 42 

The United States started from a distinct 
disadvantage in the nuclear balance in the 
Middle East. The Soviets arrayed a massive 
arsenal of strategic weapons toward the Per- 
sian Gulf, capable of devastating the area's 
military bases, ports, and refineries and oil 
fields. Embedded within their armor and 
mechanized divisions were 152 tactical mo- 
bile rockets designed to carry nuclear war- 
heads, as well as nearly 300 nuclear artillery 
shells. Larger ballistic missiles based in the 
southern Soviet Caucasus could easily reach 
any corner of the Middle East. Backing this 
arsenal were 283 aircraft capable of drop- 
ping nuclear bombs with a destructive power 
that dwarfed Hiroshima. U.S. intelligence 
detected nuclear storage bunkers at four 

Soviet airfields alone just to support an inva- 
sion of Iran. 

In December 1980, Undersecretary Komer 
released a study on the potential use of nuc- 
lear weapons to defend the Persian Gulf. The 
first objective remained, Komer said, to deter 
Soviet aggression in Iran. But if deterrence 
failed, the use of nuclear weapons would sig- 
nal to Moscow the American resolve to de- 
fend the Gulf. Komer approved three options 
for employing nuclear weapons against the 
Soviets in Iran. The first two options used 
nuclear weapons only within Iran, with the 
objective to block Soviet forces by destroying 
the mountain passes on the Iran-Soviet bor- 
der and the Zagros Mountains, which would 
impede Moscow's movements southward to- 
ward the Gulf. If Soviet troops were already 
in Iran, American bombers would hit Soviet 
rear echelon units entering Iran, while the 
U.S. Army's tactical artillery nukes would 
devastate frontline ground forces attacking 

U.S. forces. The third option expanded 
American nuclear attacks to bases and nucle- 
ar missile sites in the southern Soviet Union, 
striking Soviet nuclear headquarters, logist- 
ics bases, and conventional forces. The goal, 
a Pentagon plan summarized, would be to 
destroy Moscow's ability to "sustain military 
operations in Iran." 

Komer's preference for nuclear weapons in 
Iran was, in the best Dr. Strangeloveian 
speak, known as the "passive option." U.S. 
Special Forces would detonate nuclear 
devices in key mountain passes, tunnels, and 
roads into western Iran from the Soviet 
Union. The resulting nuclear detonation 
would collapse mountains and spawn ava- 
lanches, and thus prevent Soviet tanks from 
moving into Iran. Because time was the 
Achilles' heel of the U.S. rapid deployment 
force, Komer's study noted, "Closing the 
passes in front of the initial invasion would 
significantly impede a Red Army advance, 

and, if the Soviets did not respond in kind, 
could provide additional time for the U.S. to 
deploy forces." Furthermore, it had the ad- 
ded advantage of not directly targeting 
Soviet troops, which otherwise might lead to 
rapid escalation in a nuclear war. The 
Pentagon allocated over twenty atomic de- 
molition munitions for this task in Iran. Pop- 
ularly referred to as "manpack nukes," they 
had been in the U.S. inventory since the 
1950s. Each device weighed less than 163 
pounds and easily could be parachuted or 
clandestinely smuggled in by a small special 
forces team. The small nukes were to be bur- 
ied and set with a variable yield, which could 
create either a relatively small explosion to 
destroy a large tunnel or a massive detona- 
tion to collapse an entire mountain pass. 43 

The one downside, Komer noted, was that 
this strategy necessitated the first use of nuc- 
lear weapons. This preemptive use of nuclear 
weapons "bears the risk of uncontrolled 

escalation," he wrote. Even with the "passive 
option," the Soviets might respond in kind 
and obliterate the ports of Bushehr and 
Bandar Abbas to deny them to arriving 
American forces. But neither the Joint Chiefs 
nor Komer viewed this response as particu- 
larly bad. In the harsh calculations of the 
Cold War, Komer wrote, "the net effect could 
be, at least in the short-term, to produce a 
militarily neutral situation with respect to 
U.S. -USSR ground forces." If neither side 
could get into Iran, the United States would 
still achieve its goal of safeguarding the oil 
fields. No one reflected on how the Iranians 
might view such a scenario. 

1 he political winds did not blow in Pres- 
ident Jimmy Carter's favor in November 
1980. The voters tossed the Democrats out in 
a hurricane that came in the form of Ronald 
Reagan, who won forty-four of the fifty states 

in an electoral landslide. Implementing the 
Carter Doctrine would fall to his successor. 
But Carter's State of the Union speech on 
that cold January night had put into motion 
an important new American strategy for the 
Middle East. After floundering through one 
Middle East crisis after another, in his final 
year in office President Carter's fractured 
foreign policy team finally coalesced around 
a new plan to defend Middle East oil. 

In his last month in office, Carter contin- 
ued to modify his Middle East strategy. On 
January 7, the president signed a secret dir- 
ective staking out the American policy of 
freedom of navigation in the Persian Gulf. 
Specifically, Carter authorized the Pentagon 
to use force to prevent Iran from closing the 
Strait of Hormuz to oil exports. Just five days 
before leaving office, Carter signed his last 
directive laying out Brzezinski's Persian Gulf 
security framework. Written largely for the 
new administration, it encapsulated the 

decisions hashed out over the previous year. 
Carter had set down a marker: the United 
States would use force to prevent Iran from 
hindering the free flow of oil from the Per- 
sian Gulf. 44 The U.S. government moved to 
develop closer military ties with the pro- 
Western Arab states ringing Iran and 
reached tacit agreements to facilitate the op- 
erations of America's new military limb de- 
signed specifically to intervene in the Middle 
East. The first military plans had been re- 
fined to combat the Soviets. While Reagan's 
supporters touted the dawn of a new, firmer 
stance against the Soviet Union in the Cold 
War, in fact it had been Jimmy Carter who 
laid the foundation for American grand 

strategy for the next decade. 45 


Barbed- Wire Bob 

vJn January 20, 1981, the day Ronald 
Wilson Reagan became the fortieth president 
of the United States, Jimmy Carter spent 
much of his last morning in office finalizing 
the release of the American hostages in Iran. 
It was a bittersweet day for Carter; the new 
president had already taken the oath by the 
time the hostages departed Tehran airport 
for their flight to Algeria and freedom. 

At sixty-nine, Reagan was the oldest man 
ever elected president. Despite the creases of 
age showing in his long face, he was as ener- 
getic and vernal as his jet-black hair indic- 
ated. Perennially upbeat, he rarely displayed 
anger. The new commander in chief had a 
strong sense of right and wrong. Reagan 

famously avoided the intricacies of policy 
particulars. Instead, he provided an un- 
wavering broad world vision: the moral 
righteousness of the free world's confronta- 
tion with an expansionistic evil Soviet 

Reagan hated personal confrontations, 
sought to avoid face-to-face disagreements, 
and tended to defer unpleasant decisions, es- 
pecially if they involved his longtime ac- 
quaintances serving in the administration. 
While this made for genial staff meetings, it 
also resulted in important national security 
sessions adjourning without anyone having 
the foggiest idea of what the president had 
actually decided. 

At first appearance, the new president 
stood in stark contrast to his predecessor. 
Carter came across as a scolding headmas- 
ter; Reagan appeared winsome. Where 
Carter delved into the nuances of policy, 
Reagan remained a generalist, aloof from the 

sausage making. Carter had a clear view of 
the way forward in the Middle East with the 
Arab-Israeli peace process and the rapid de- 
ployment force; Reagan came to office with 
no firm convictions. Carter had been slow to 
recognize the threat posed by Soviet adven- 
turism in the Middle East; Reagan came to 
the Oval Office determined to confront 
Soviet expansion. 

U.S. Marine Corps commandant General 
Robert Barrow liked the new president. A 
tall, courtly Southern gentleman from 
Louisiana, Barrow had won the Navy Cross, 
the nation's second highest military medal, 
as a company commander during the epic re- 
treat from the Chosin Reservoir in Korea. Al- 
though he had considerable respect for the 
intellect of Defense Secretary Harold Brown, 
Barrow harbored misgivings about many of 
Carter's defense policies, which he thought 
had left America weak and vulnerable to the 
Soviet Union. The yearlong trauma of the 

hostage crisis and the debacle of the failed 
rescue mission only added to Barrow's mel- 
ancholy. Reagan's campaign promise to in- 
crease defense spending came as a welcome 
balm, soothing the anxieties of Barrow and 
many of his fellow generals. 

During the marine commandant's first 
meeting with Reagan on the reviewing stand 
during the inaugural parade, a military form- 
ation carrying the American flag passed by. 
The president turned to Barrow and asked if 
it would be okay if he returned their salute 
even though he was a civilian. 1 

"Yes, sir. You're the commander in chief, 
Mr. President," Barrow answered in his 
Louisiana drawl. Reagan did so, establishing 
a precedent that continues to this day. 

The political appointees who comprised 
the new Republican administration arrived 
distrustful of any holdover from the Carter 
years. During the transition, they showed 
little interest in being briefed on Carter's 

defense initiatives and displayed open dis- 
dain for anyone who had gone along with 
Carter's perceived weak-kneed policies 
against Iran and the Soviet Union. The chair- 
man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General 
David Jones, bore the brunt of the new civil- 
ian team's disrespect. The Republicans be- 
lieved he had been too willing to go along 
with Carter's policies, such as giving up 
American control over the Panama Canal 
and cuts in defense programs such as the B-i 
bomber. President Reagan considered firing 
Jones, who still had a year left in his term as 
chairman. But the president decided against 
it, concerned that it would set a bad preced- 
ent. Reagan's solution was simply to cut the 
chairman out of any serious deliberations 
until he could appoint a general more to his 
liking. For the first year of his presidency, 
Reagan refused to go to the Pentagon and 
meet with the Joint Chiefs. It was an excep- 
tional snub, and one that left no illusions in 

Washington about what the new administra- 
tion thought of those in uniform who had 
worked for Carter's Defense Department. It 
had no less a political impact on the military 

than if Reagan had replaced Jones. 2 

In June 1982, David Jones retired on 
schedule, and Reagan appointed Army Gen- 
eral John "Jack" Vessey as the new senior 
military adviser. Unpretentious, Vessey was 
a muddy-boots soldier. He had risen through 
the ranks, having received a battlefield com- 
mission at the bloody battle of Anzio in Italy 
during the Second World War. Lean with 
graying hair, the new chairman was a reli- 
gious man. Contemporaries never viewed 
Vessey as an intellect, but he was respected 
within the military and had the deserved 
reputation as being both honest and apolitic- 
al, both traits that appealed to President 
Reagan. For Vessey, war was not an academ- 
ic exercise. Having experienced combat up 
close in three wars, he remained reticent 

about risking young men's lives. Military 
force, Vessey believed, should be the option 
of last resort. 

While they were loath to admit it, the 
Reagan foreign policy team continued many 
of Carter's Persian Gulf defense policies. 
Early in the administration, the Joint Staff 
produced a new study on additional con- 
struction for U.S. forces from Morocco to 
Somalia that reflected Carter's conclusions. 
Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger 
liked it, and the Reagan administration 
pushed through an additional $700 million 
for base construction in the Middle East to 

support the rapid deployment force. 3 

On September 30, 1981, Reagan's national 
security team met in the Cabinet Room, next 
to the Oval Office, to finalize a decision dir- 
ective for the president's signature outlining 
the administration's approach toward Iran. 
The release of the hostages had not led to im- 
proved relations between Tehran and 

Washington. That would depend, National 
Security Adviser Richard Allen wrote to the 
secretary of defense, on "Iran's willingness to 
demonstrate by specific action its restored 
respect for international law and civilized us- 
age." 4 This new policy document reiterated 
the importance of preventing Soviet domina- 
tion of Iran's oil and laid out steps to in- 
crease intelligence gathering inside Iran, 
prevent the expansion of the Islamic Revolu- 
tion, and cultivate pro-Western moderates 

within the Iranian government. 5 These re- 
mained the cornerstones of American policy 
toward Iran for the next eight years of 
Reagan's presidency. 

Caspar Weinberger, the new secretary of 
defense, was a slight, impeccably dressed, af- 
fable bulldog. The California native was a 
close political and personal friend of 
Reagan's as well as a Republican stalwart, 
having served as President Nixon's budget 
director and secretary of health, education, 

and welfare. Unlike his immediate prede- 
cessors as defense secretary, "Cap," as most 
within the Reagan White House called him, 
had seen war. He'd served in the Pacific dur- 
ing the Second World War as an infantry of- 
ficer and later as an intelligence officer on 
MacArthur's staff. Weinberger's brief milit- 
ary service affected his outlook in his new 

When Weinberger arrived in his Pentagon 
office on the third-floor outer E ring, he im- 
mediately removed a large formal portrait of 
dour-looking James Forrestal, the first sec- 
retary of defense, who'd suffered from de- 
pression and committed suicide by throwing 
himself out a top window in the imposing 
tower at Bethesda Naval Hospital. Weinber- 
ger replaced it with a more uplifting four- 
hundred-year-old Titian painting of a Cath- 
olic cardinal bestowing his beneficence upon 
an abbot, a colorful piece that the new sec- 
retary found soothing. Two bronze busts 

adorned his expansive office, one of Wein- 
berger's wartime boss Douglas MacArthur, 
and the other of an infantryman. "I also 
wanted to make it clear that our administra- 
tion was not worried about being too militar- 
istic," Weinberger later wrote.- 

In policy, Weinberger was a cautious man. 
He viewed military force as a last resort and 
not a first. "He liked to have the power, but 
did not really want to use it," remarked 
noted military historian Steven Rearden. 
Weinberger's philosophy was best summed 
up in a speech he gave at a luncheon held 
November 28, 1984, at the National Press 
Club, just down the street from the White 
House. In what became known as the Wein- 
berger Doctrine, the defense secretary out- 
lined a series of criteria for committing the 
U.S. military to combat: only for vital nation- 
al interests, with clearly defined goals for vic- 
tory, and only if supported by the American 

This view reflected the beliefs of those the 
secretary surrounded himself with, especially 
his two most important confidants, his seni- 
or military assistant, Major General Colin 
Powell, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of 
Defense Richard Armitage. 2 

Powell had impressed Weinberger from 
when he'd briefly served under him as a 
White House Fellow during the Ford admin- 
istration. Powell was easy to like. He dis- 
played many of the best traits of an army 
leader: smart, precise in his verbiage, with 
an infectious smile and a good sense of hu- 
mor. Powell inspired loyalty and respect 
from superiors and subordinates alike. But 
Colin Powell could never be described as a 
muddy-boots soldier. The consummate polit- 
ical general and Beltway insider, he stood in 
sharp contrast to Chairman of the Joint 
Chiefs John Vessey. Powell had first arrived 
in Washington as a midgrade officer in 
September 1969, and with the exception of 

obligatory short command tours needed to 
check the box for promotion, he'd never left. 
By the time he took the job as Weinberger's 
senior military assistant, he'd already had 
nearly a decade under his belt of working the 
corridors of the Pentagon, including the 
same billet as military assistant for the num- 
ber two man in the Defense Department dur- 
ing the Carter administration. 

In many ways Richard Armitage was an 
anomaly in Washington. In a city of smooth 
politicians, lobbyists, and lawyers, Armitage 
had been formed from a different mold. A 
former navy officer, he'd served multiple 
tours in Vietnam. An avid weight lifter, he 
trekked every day down to the Pentagon Of- 
ficers Athletic Club, or POAC, a dingy maze 
that sufficed as the Pentagon's gym. Here 
Armitage, then in his forties, routinely 
bench -pressed more weight than most of the 
far younger servicemen. Direct, blunt, and 
unpretentious in manner, balding and 

barrel-chested, he resembled Uncle Fester 
on the TV show The Addams Family, with 
the exception of his bright blue eyes that re- 
vealed a quick mind and an unlimited reser- 
voir of energy. He was a close confidant of 
Weinberger's and arguably the most influen- 
tial man in the Pentagon. "If you wanted 
something done," said one four-star general 
at the time, "you went through Rich." 

On his first day as the new defense secret- 
ary, Weinberger found a letter on his desk 
from General Volney Warner. The army gen- 
eral had drafted a series of recommendations 
intended to pull under Warner's command 
both Paul X. Kelley's rapid deployment 
headquarters and the elite counterterrorism 
headquarters known as Joint Special Opera- 
tions Command at Fort Bragg. s Weinberger 
had followed the contorted history of the 
rapid deployment force. He found the idea of 
a major land war in Iran unrealistic and 
sided with those who believed that what the 

military needed was not an interventionist 
force for the Middle East, but a deterrent 
capability. However, he faced the same di- 
lemma as Secretary Brown: the military re- 
mained hopelessly divided on how to deal 
with Iran and the Middle East. 

Weinberger's brief military experience had 
taught him about the dangers of unit bound- 
aries, the problems presented where two 
friendly units came together. "I had seen 
some of the difficulties where boundaries of 
command came together," Weinberger said. 
"The enemy tried to exploit these seams 
between our units." In the Middle East, 
Weinberger noted, you had just such a 
boundary between two massive four-star 
commands— European Command and Pa- 
cific Command— running through the most 
volatile region in the world. In Weinberger's 
mind, the rapid deployment force only com- 
pounded the problem about who was really 
in charge in the event of a war in the Middle 

East. "We need one man in charge over the 
whole area," Weinberger thought. The letter 
from Warner spurred him to action. 

In early April 1981, Weinberger met in the 
Tank with the Joint Chiefs to discuss the fu- 
ture of the rapid deployment force. Not one 
of the five flag officers present supported re- 
taining the organization. "Operations in the 
Persian Gulf would extend the two fleets 
enormously," Weinberger recalled of the 

chief of naval operations' views. 9 Caspar 
Weinberger brushed aside the opinions of 
both the Joint Chiefs and Volney Warner and 
sided with P. X. Kelley. The secretary 
ordered the rapid deployment force into a 
new four-star headquarters. This would be a 
new unified command, as the Pentagon 
termed it, and would control all U.S. military 
forces, regardless of service, throughout the 
Middle East. 

The defense secretary's decision only ad- 
ded to the polemical discussions by the five 

gray-haired gentlemen in the Tank. They 
wrangled over what units to assign to the 
command and which countries should be in- 
cluded (Egypt and Israel being the major 
bones of contention). Even the name of the 
new four-star headquarters occupied a stag- 
gering amount of mental energy on the part 
of the Pentagon's leadership. One suggestion 
was Crescent Command. Someone else pro- 
posed Commander in Chief, Middle East, 
Africa, Southwest Asia, shorted to the ac- 
ronym CINCMEAFSWA. Kelley's replace- 
ment at the rapid deployment force, Lieuten- 
ant General Robert Kingston, recommended 
the name United States Central Command, 
as it had a ring of significance. However, the 
Joint Chiefs did not like this name, as it was 
unclear to them what the command was 
central in relation to. They countered with 
Southwest Asia Command. But others within 
the bureaucracy objected to this on the 
grounds that it sounded too much like an 

interventionist force, which of course was the 
command's raison d'etre. At one point, one 
of Weinberger's military assistants wrote to 
the secretary, "I did hear someone mention 
WEINLUCCICOM but I don't understand 

what the letters stand for."— And so it con- 
tinued, month after month. 

Gentle prodding by the president finally 
broke the gridlock. Ronald Reagan under- 
stood the havoc Iran wreaked upon his pre- 
decessor, and the president took an unusu- 
ally keen interest in the formation of a milit- 
ary command for the Middle East. "I endorse 
it with enthusiasm," Reagan wrote to Wein- 
berger upon hearing of his decision to form a 
four-star Middle East headquarters: "I have 
long felt that the importance of this region is 
such that we need the optimal command ar- 
rangements possible, and this means a sep- 
arate command. I approve your decision and 
I look forward to the specifics of your imple- 
mentation plan." When a year had passed 

with no new command established, the pres- 
ident sent a polite yet firm reminder to 
Weinberger to update him on the specifics of 
the new command. The president put the 
Pentagon on notice to get on with business.— 
It worked. 

The Pentagon quickly finalized the details 
of the new Middle East command in spite of 
a last-minute effort by the navy to kill the 
initiative backed by the head of the powerful 
Senate Appropriations Committee, Alaska 

senator Ted Stevens.— Weinberger approved 
standing up U.S. Central Command, or 
CENTCOM, as the military abbreviated it. 
CENTCOM's area of responsibility spanned 
nineteen countries, from Egypt in the west to 
Pakistan in the east to Kenya in the south. 
Most of the forces assigned came from those 
already under the rapid deployment force, 
with both the army and air force establishing 
subordinate headquarters to support 
CENTCOM. The army reactivated the famed 

Third Army to command its divisions for the 
Middle East, which General George Patton 
had commanded in Western Europe as the 
spearhead of American armored forces in 

Europe during the Second World War. 13 In 
order to smooth the concerns by General 
Barrow over control of CENTCOM, General 
Vessey implemented a tacit agreement that 
CENTCOM 's commander would alternate 
between the army and the marines. The un- 
derstanding held for the next twenty years, 
until 2003, when pressures related to the 
troubled U.S. occupation in Iraq led to suc- 
cessive army commanders. 

Weinberger's decision ended General Vol- 
ney Warner's career. He turned down anoth- 
er major command in Europe and wrote to 
Weinberger that since "I no longer enjoy the 
support and confidence of the Joint Chiefs of 
Staff, request that I be relieved of my duties." 
Weinberger concurred. An embittered Vol- 
ney Warner penned a five-page letter to 

President Reagan blasting Weinberger's de- 
cision and the parochial and ineffectual Joint 

Chiefs. 14 Warner refused a retirement 
parade. Instead, he and some close comrades 
parachuted from a plane at Fort Bragg, 
where a keg of beer awaited the skydivers in 
the landing zone. "It was the way I wanted to 

go, with a few friends and a few beers." 15 

Ihe decision to form CENTCOM re- 
ceived a warm reception from the pro- 
Western Arabs. Just after sunset on the af- 
ternoon of December 16, 1982, Prince 
Bandar bin Sultan, the affable and shrewd 
Saudi ambassador to Washington, arrived in 
Weinberger's office to relay a message from 
the Saudi monarch. "King Fahd was one 
hundred percent in support of the newly cre- 
ated U.S. Central Command and saw it as a 
good move, one that sent the right signal to 

the Soviets," the prince said. CENTCOM 
made Moscow very uneasy, Bandar added, 
mentioning that the Soviets had tried to con- 
vince Saudi Arabia that this was merely an 
American vehicle to take over the region. The 
king rejected this argument and stood firmly 
behind American goals in the Persian Gulf, 
Bandar told the secretary. 

In typical Saudi style, however, Bandar 
ended the meeting with a straightforward 
pronouncement that his government would 
have to makepublic statements distancing it- 
self from CENTCOM, but Weinberger should 
not pay any attention to those statements. 
Weinberger understood and nodded in 
agreement, and the meeting adjourned with 
a hearty laugh as the two men reflected on 
the duplicity that permeated the Middle 

East. 16 

The one notable Middle East country un- 
happy with America's new defense scheme 
was Washington's most stalwart ally in the 

region, Israel. The Jewish state worried 
about the ramifications of an American mil- 
itary command dedicated solely to the sup- 
port of the Arabs, and hoped that closer mil- 
itary ties would strengthen the relationship 
between the two countries. Israel pushed 
forcefully for inclusion in the American de- 
fense plans for the Middle East. Knowing full 
well the hawkish Cold War views of the new 
civilian leaders in Washington, the Israeli 
government emphasized the Soviet hand in 
the Arab-Israeli conflict. Just a month after 
the inauguration, the Israeli foreign minister 
showed up in a Pentagon conference room to 
meet with Secretary Weinberger. Yitzhak 
Shamir repeatedly stressed to Weinberger 
that the Soviet Union created most of the re- 
gion's instability. "The PLO is a terrorist or- 
ganization that works directly for the Soviet 
Union," Shamir said forcefully, if not entirely 
truthfully, to Weinberger during one of their 
first meetings. Prime Minister Menachem 

Begin would repeat this mantra in his first 
meeting with Reagan in the Oval Office. He 
saw little difference between Soviet client 
states in the Middle East and those of the 
Warsaw Pact in Europe. He offered the use 
of Israeli air bases and ports, even going so 
far as to commit the Israeli air force to fly for 
the U.S. military over the Persian Gulf. In re- 
turn, he wanted the United States to essen- 
tially scrap its recent agreements with Arabs 
supporting the rapid deployment force. Be- 
gin singled out Iraq as the key enemy for Is- 
rael, and by inference the United States, due 
to its large conventional military and bud- 
ding nuclear program. That Israel's anxiety 
over the military might of Iraq had little to 
do with the Cold War was omitted from the 
talking points, but the prime minister's 
forceful advocacy for Israel as a Cold War as- 
set to Washington affected American offi- 
cials. 12 

Alexander Haig, now secretary of state in 
the Reagan administration, never needed 
convincing; he already viewed the Middle 
East through a Cold War lens and was an ar- 
dent supporter of Israel. Both he and Reagan 
believed that Israel should be included in 
CENTCOM, an opinion initially shared by 
Weinberger too. 

However, both the Joint Chiefs and the ci- 
vilians in the Defense Department swayed 
Weinberger to recommend against it. The 
Joint Chiefs believed that Israel lay too far 
from the Persian Gulf and that including Is- 
rael would jeopardize the important basing 

agreements with the Arab nations. The 
senior civilian responsible for military issues 
apart from the Soviet Union was a marine 
Vietnam veteran, Bing West. He warned 
Weinberger that Reagan was under the un- 
due influence of a pro-Israeli staffer on the 
National Security Council, or NSC, and that 

this was why he wanted the Jewish state in- 
cluded in CENTCOM. 

This insinuation greatly irritated Weinber- 
ger. "He's the president," the secretary re- 
sponded to West. "Whose advice he consul- 
ted before making a decision is irrelevant." 

After meeting with the Joint Chiefs in the 
Tank on May 25, 1982, however, Weinberger 
reversed his position and wrote to Reagan 
recommending excluding Israel, Lebanon, 
and Syria from the new Middle East com- 
mand out of deference to Arab sensibilities. 
"I do not entirely share this view, but we can 
always change it if need be," Weinberger 

wrote. 12 

he replacement for P. X. Kelley and the 
first commander of CENTCOM was Robert 
"Barbed-Wire Bob" Kingston. Tall and thin, 
with a stern demeanor and explosive temper, 
Kingston was all about the business of war. 
"He had a gaze that said, 'Don't fuck with 
me,'" remarked Jay Hines, the longtime civil- 
ian historian at CENTCOM. He'd earned his 
moniker when he strung concertina wire 
around his command post to keep soldiers 
from walking on the grass. While no great 
strategic thinker, Kingston was a warrior, 
gifted with the natural ability to lead men in 
combat. As a young lieutenant during the 
Korean War, he'd led a hundred-man force 
up to the frozen bank of the Yalu River on 
the Chinese border and had repeatedly dis- 
tinguished himself during the American 
army's chaotic flight south following the 
Chinese intervention in November 1950. 

Kingston had a long association with the 
CIA. After his first tour in Korea, he moved 
over to a joint military-CIA paramilitary or- 
ganization that infiltrated South Korean 
agents into the north and conducted raids 
from submarines, blowing up trains and 
bridges deep behind North Korean lines. 
Kingston was one of the few Americans to go 
ashore with the Korean operatives on sabot- 
age missions. "At the time, I thought it was 
great fun," Kingston later said. 22 After 
Korea, Kingston became one of the few milit- 
ary officers to be run through the CIA's case 
officers' course, which trained CIA officers to 
handle foreign agents. In the spring of 1967 
Kingston took command of OP-34, a highly 
sensitive mission that sent teams of South 
Vietnamese agents into North Vietnam to try 
to organize an insurgency against the com- 
munist government. Begun by the CIA in the 
early 1960s, the military took over respons- 
ibility in 1964. 

Shortly after his arrival, Kingston suspec- 
ted the entire operation had been comprom- 
ised. Of the five hundred agents dropped in- 
to the north, all had been killed or turned out 
to be double agents working for the com- 
munists. Kingston gave the bad news to his 
boss, Colonel John Singlaub— himself a le- 
gendary former Office of Strategic Services 
(OSS) agent who had parachuted into France 
before D-Day— in his usual blunt manner: 
"What do you want to tell Ho Chi Minh? 
Your teams are double agents and I can send 
Ho the message through them."— 

Kingston maintained his CIA contacts 
after arriving in Tampa as the new com- 
mander. He became a frequent visitor to its 

headquarters in Langley, Virginia.— King- 
ston had a knack for obtaining raw CIA intel- 
ligence outside of the normal channels. This 
provided Kingston with unique information 
not normally available to a four-star general, 
and it eventually caught the attention of 

Deputy CIA Director Robert Gates, who 
ordered this back channel closed. Gates dir- 
ected that only approved intelligence docu- 
ments be given to CENTCOM, through the 
conventional channel of the Defense Intelli- 
gence Agency. 23 

The plan Kingston inherited from Kelley to 
defend Iran from the Soviets rested on the 
Zagros Mountains strategy. Now labeled 
Operations Plan (OPLAN) 1004, this rested 
on long-standing Cold War fears of a Soviet 
invasion of Iran that would threaten Western 
access to Middle East oil. It called for the de- 
ployment of four U.S. divisions and three air- 
craft carriers, first to secure the sea-lanes out 
of the Persian Gulf, and then to land troops 
at Bandar Abbas at the Strait of Hormuz as 
well as at the northern end of the Gulf near 
Abadan. From there, the Americans would 
advance northeast into the Persian interior, 
intent on establishing a defense line along 
the Zagros, a massive, jagged mountain 

range with many peaks in excess of ten thou- 
sand feet stretching from northeastern Iraq 
near Kurdistan then southeast and ending 
near the Strait of Hormuz. 

As Kingston looked at revising the Iran 
plan, the one glaring weakness was how the 
Islamic Republic would react to a crisis 
between the superpowers. If the Soviet 
Union unilaterally invaded Iran, perhaps to 
support a pro-Soviet coup, Kingston con- 
cluded that Khomeini might set aside his 
hatred for the United States and cooperate 
with the U.S. military. A cooperative or at 
least passive Iran would immensely improve 
the U.S. military's chances of success. 
CENTCOM hoped to work with the Iranian 
military and use it to defend the Khuzestan 
oil fields in southwestern Iran, which might 
alleviate Iranian concerns that the United 
States just wanted to seize the country's 

oil. 24 

In August 1983, however, the intelligence 
agencies reassessed their assumptions about 
Iran's placidity should the U.S. military ar- 
rive ostensibly to protect them against the 
communists. Iran, DIA analysts concluded, 
disliked the Americans as much as it did the 
Soviets and would be likely to resist both 
with equal vigor. A CIA assessment came to 
the same conclusion, noting that the Iranian 
government worried about a secret desire by 
the superpowers to repeat World War II and 
divide Iran: "Fear of superpower collusion to 
divide Iran into separate spheres of influence 
has been infused in the Iranian people by 
Khomeini and his clerical infrastructure." If 
the Soviets staged a coup and installed a 
puppet government, as they had in Afgh- 
anistan, CENTCOM's intervention would en- 
counter stiff resistance. Iran would be con- 
vinced that Washington and Moscow were 
colluding to overthrow the Islamic Republic. 
CENTCOM would have to fight its way into 

Iran even before locking horns with the Red 

Army. 25 

Kingston revised his plans to reflect this 
reality. The U.S. military would now wait un- 
til after the Soviets first crossed the border 
into Iran. With the bulk of the Iranian army 
moving north to meet the Red Army, this 
would allow the marines and soldiers to seize 
the ports of Bushehr and Bandar Abbas 
without much opposition. More important, 
by waiting until Moscow struck first, 
CENTCOM planners surmised, the Iranians 
would be far more willing to cooperate with 
the U.S. military to counter an invasion by 

the communists.— 

Kingston's extensive background in covert 
operations was reflected in his belief that 
CENTCOM needed to develop an under- 
ground organization in Iran. If the proper ar- 
rangements could be made with the Iranian 
military, Kingston hoped to grease the skids 
for arrival of American troops and help 

organize Iranian resistance to the Soviets. 
Kingston looked to NATO plans as the mod- 
el. In the event of war in Central Europe, the 
Pentagon intended to insert small teams of 
special forces behind the Soviet lines in 
Eastern Europe to execute direct action mis- 
sions, blowing up bridges and attacking im- 
portant targets deep in the enemy rear, and 
to conduct unconventional warfare opera- 
tions, which entailed working with anti- 
Soviet guerrilla forces to foment a revolution 
within these less than enthusiastic members 

of the Warsaw Pact. 22 To support this plan, 
the U.S. Army had secretly hidden caches of 
weapons and explosives throughout Eastern 

Kingston developed an aggressive special 
operations forces plan for Iran. He formed a 
new, close-hold headquarters in Tampa 
called the Joint Unconventional Warfare 
Task Force, commanded by an army bri- 
gadier general. It would control the large 

contingent of several thousand Army Special 
Forces, Navy SEALs, and air force planes and 
helicopters that would conduct clandestine 
operations in Iran. The U.S. Army's 5th Spe- 
cial Forces Group, specially trained for the 
Middle East with linguists in Farsi and Arab- 
ic, would fly in and establish its headquarters 
at Seeb, Oman. Its three battalions would 
then be dispatched to Turkey, Pakistan, and 

Saudi Arabia. Even before hostilities 
began, they would secretly fly into Iran and 
deploy near the mountain passes in its 
northwestern regions along the likely aven- 
ues of invasion for Soviet troops. There they 
would destroy select roads, bridges, and rail 
lines to hinder the Soviet advance. Mean- 
while, other soldiers would make contact 
with Iranian resistance forces and begin to 
organize a guerrilla army behind the Russian 

Should Iran resist the Americans, Navy 
SEALs would quickly seize the important 

ports of Bandar Abbas and Bushehr and kill 
the defenders before they had time to organ- 
ize any coherent defense. U.S. Marines or 
elite Army Rangers would then be hastily 
flown in to secure the port, a critical link in 
the support of the larger follow-on force of 
tank divisions. 

.Located in an unobtrusive compound 
outside of Washington, D.C., was one of the 
most closely guarded "black" units in the 
U.S. Army: the Intelligence Support Activity 
(ISA). Established in March 1981, ISA owed 
its creation to the Iranian hostage crisis and 
the subsequent failed rescue mission. The 
new organization would serve as a fusion 
group for tactical human, signals, and elec- 
tronic intelligence to support special forces 
units. ISA's first years were marked by some 
highly questionable actions. It provided fin- 
ancial and intelligence support for former 

Army Special Forces lieutenant colonel, and 
later fringe presidential candidate, James 
"Bo" Gritz in his fantastical schemes to res- 
cue American prisoners of war supposedly 
left in Laos after the Vietnam War. In re- 
sponse, in 1982 Deputy Secretary Frank 
Carlucci temporarily suspended all ISA oper- 
ations, noting in a memo for the undersec- 
retary of defense for policy, Fred Ikle, that he 
found the organization's excesses "disturbing 
in the extreme." The next year Weinberger 
issued a new charter for ISA, placing it under 
tight reins under a command in Fort Bragg, 
and the organization soon put its past behind 
it, developing into one of the premier units 
in the U.S. military. By 1987, ISA, under the 
command of Colonel John Lackey III, 
swelled to nearly four hundred people, with 
distinct clandestine operations, signal collec- 
tion, and communications squadrons. 22 

In 1983 Lieutenant General William 
Odom, the senior army intelligence officer, 

or G-2, tasked ISA with developing conduits 
and recruiting agents in Iran to support 
CENTCOM. Thin and with horn-rimmed 
glasses, Odom was a scholar-soldier. An ex- 
pert on the Soviet Union with master's and 
doctorate degrees from Columbia University, 
he'd risen to prominence as the military as- 
sistant to Carter's national security adviser, 
Zbigniew Brzezinski. Odom thought that 
what Kingston needed were Iranian agents at 
a lower level who could actually help get U.S. 
troops into Iran— agents with detailed know- 
ledge of roads who could tell you, for ex- 
ample, how much weight a specific bridge 
could hold. 

"I'd like to have taxicab companies, truck- 
ing companies, hotel managers," Odom said 
later, "recruits at a lower level but someone 
who could meet you at the airport and get 
forces quickly into the country." With the 
support of the chief of staff of the army, Gen- 
eral Shy Meyer, Odom elevated the priority 

level for human intelligence in Iran for ISA 
so it was second in priority only to spying 
against the Soviets in Europe. 32 

Working closely with the small group of 
officers under Kingston in Tampa, ISA 
formed two special detachments focused on 
Iran. Detachment E operated undercover out 
of the nine-story I.G. Farben building in 
Frankfurt, West Germany. The 1930s struc- 
ture housed the U.S. Army's V Corps 
headquarters as well as the military's coun- 
terintelligence and clandestine operations 
for Europe and the Middle East. That de- 
tachment targeted exile and resistance 
groups within Iran, and soon expanded to 
establish another office in Pakistan from 
which it controlled operations and agents in- 
side Iran proper. 31 Detachment L, in the Un- 
ited States, worked out in the open to cultiv- 
ate former Iranian military officers who 
would contact old friends and colleagues still 
in Iran who could obtain firsthand 

information on the state of the Iranian 

ISA was less successful in cultivating the 
disparate ethnic and separatist groups within 
Iran, especially the Kurds in the northwest- 
ern regions. Odom believed they would be a 
natural ally for the United States and might 
even provide an alternative safe haven for 
U.S. Special Operations Forces. "We had ac- 
cess to the Kurds," one U.S. Army intelli- 
gence officer later said, "but neither the 
Turks nor the Iraqis wanted the U.S. to stir 
up any separatist movements with the 
Kurds— unless they controlled it— for fear it 
might spread to their own countries." 

Odom's staff dusted off an old defense 
plan, code-named Armish-Maag, that the 
10th Special Forces Group had developed for 
the shah to defend Iran from a Soviet inva- 
sion. It contained detailed targeting data on 
the tunnels and the mountain passes leading 
into northern Iran from Soviet Azerbaijan. 

The shah's army had used this information 
to pre-position materials to destroy bridges 
and tunnels. One of the Iranians now work- 
ing for ISA confirmed that the explosives had 
been removed, but the predrilled holes along 
bridge pilings and tunnel entrances re- 
mained. Armed with this information, Army 
Special Forces would only have to replace the 
explosives so as to quickly close many of the 
important roads needed by the Soviet Union 
to invade Iran. It saved years in research, an 
army analyst later acknowledged. 

However, ISA drew the ire of the CIA. The 
CIA had legal responsibility for all recruit- 
ment of agents during peacetime and viewed 
the ISA officers as amateurs. Howard Hart, 
an experienced CIA operative who'd organ- 
ized the initial effort to arm the mujahideen 
in Afghanistan and later ran the CIA's Spe- 
cial Activities Division, which controlled all 
the paramilitary forces, believed that the mil- 
itary lacked the subtlety for sensitive 

operations. "The military men are patriots, 
but in general when it comes to paramilitary 
operations and spying, they are well-inten- 
tioned amateurs. When the military sends 
someone undercover into Iran disguised as a 
Middle East businessman, they seem to look 
like a guy pretending to be a businessman. 
When CIA sends one in, he is a Middle 
Eastern businessman." 32 At the time, the 
U.S. military's view of the CIA was just as 
jaded. A senior U.S. military officer who 
spent two decades working with the CIA 
used a common military acronym related to 
commanders or headquarters, C2, which 
stands for "command and control," when he 
noted that in the CIA, C2 stands for "control 
and credit." 

Even though ISA had to coordinate all its 
operations with Langley, the CIA viewed the 
military unit as a liability that was intruding 
on its turf. Odom knew that Langley wanted 
ISA shut down, and some of his officers 

accused CIA of distorting ISA's problems and 
of leaking the damaging information to Con- 
gress in 1982 that had nearly led to the or- 
ganization's disbandment. According to 
Odom, the CIA undermined the Pentagon's 
Iranian operation. The CIA station chief in 
Pakistan invited the ISA army officer in 
charge of Iranian operations to a diplomatic 
cocktail party in Islamabad. He made a point 
of staying close to the officer and loudly pro- 
claimed that the two men worked together. 
As the station chief operated out in the open, 
the officer's public association with him des- 
troyed his cover and forced him to leave the 
country. His departure halted the army's re- 
cruitment in Pakistan. This petty move by 
the CIA infuriated senior officials within the 
Pentagon, Weinberger included. 33 

1 he Reagan administration came to of- 
fice convinced that the machinations of 

Soviet adventurism caused most of America's 

national security problems. 34 The Arab-Is- 
raeli confrontation was seen largely through 
the prism of the Cold War: the American- 
backed Israelis were pitted against the Soviet 
client states of Syria and the Palestine Liber- 
ation Organization. Kingston and ISA had 
developed a clandestine spy organization in 
Iran whose mission focused solely on con- 
fronting the Soviet Union and not the Islam- 
ic Republic. This unitarian view downplayed 
both historical and regional causes behind 
the steady stream of conflicts that had dom- 
inated the region since the Second World 
War. The Iranian Revolution did not fit 
neatly into ISA's worldview, to put it mildly. 
Only slowly did Washington replace this my- 
opic view and begin to realize that Iran itself, 
and not the Soviet Union, represented the 
real challenge to American control over the 
Persian Gulf. 




illiam Casey was sixty-eight when 

Ronald Reagan appointed him to run Amer- 
ica's principal spy organization. The new dir- 
ector of central intelligence did not radiate a 
James Bond aura; in fact, he resembled a su- 
perannuated college professor. He shuffled 
more than walked; bald, with pronounced 
jowls, the once tall New Yorker was now 
stooped with age. He mumbled, at times to 
the point of incoherence, a trait that seemed 
to worsen when he testified before Congress, 
an institution he generally disdained. His 
clothes were rumpled and flecks of food 
stained his jacket and tie, complementing a 
heavy coat of white dandruff. Eating across 

from William Casey, contemporaries noted, 
was not for the fainthearted. 

Despite his visible aging, Casey retained a 
keen mind. A voracious reader and astute 
student of history, he roamed Washington's 
bookstores for material, especially on the 
Soviet Union, often buying stacks of books in 
a single outing. During briefings, he often 
appeared comatose, slumped back in his 
stuffed chair with only a sliver of his eyes vis- 
ible through his drooping eyelids. Then, sud- 
denly, Casey would spring to life, firing off a 
rapid series of probing questions. 

Casey had a distinguished career both in 
and out of government. He had served as the 
intelligence chief for Europe with the Office 
of Strategic Services (the precursor to the 
CIA) during World War II, as a corporate 
lawyer after the war, then as head of the Se- 
curities and Exchange Commission under 
President Nixon. A staunch Republican, he 
was Reagan's campaign manager for the 

1980 election and aspired to become secret- 
ary of state. When that post went to Alexan- 
der Haig, Casey eagerly accepted the job as 
CIA director, determined to reinvigorate the 
clandestine wing of the agency, which he be- 
lieved had been gutted by congressional in- 
vestigations and poor leadership during the 

Casey, who displayed a gift for organiza- 
tion and planning, seemed an ideal choice to 
head the CIA. "The man had a natural bent 
for what the Germans call fingerspitzenge- 
fiihl, a feel for the clandestine," recalled 
Richard Helms, Casey's roommate in Lon- 
don during the war and later CIA director. 1 
In 1944, Casey had been sent to Paris to rein- 
vigorate efforts to insert agents into Ger- 
many. "The place had gone slack. There was 
no sense of purpose," said fellow OSS officer 
Walter Lord, who worked for Casey and later 
wrote the acclaimed novel about the Titanic 
A Night to Remember. Casey soon gained 

the admiration of Lord and other subordin- 
ates. "He was blunt and impatient," observed 

Lord, "but he knew exactly what to ask.' - Ca- 
sey energized the headquarters and initiated 
some of the riskiest missions of the war. Dis- 
guised as foreign laborers, more than one 
hundred agents were air-dropped into Ger- 
many, both to spy and to determine the loca- 
tion of key industrial sites for Allied 
bombers. Remarkably, sixty-two of the 
agents ended up reporting information back 

to Casey, and only 5 percent were lost. 3 

As director, Casey had little interest or in- 
clination in running the CIA bureaucracy. 
"He was going to run the clandestine ser- 
vice," said Robert Gates, who ran the Direct- 
orate of Intelligence— the analysis wing of 
the CIA— for nearly four years under Casey 
and later served as CIA director himself, as 
well as secretary of defense under Presidents 
George W. Bush and Barack Obama. "I don't 
think he would have recognized the CIA 

organization chart in the first several years 

he was there, if his life depended on it." 4 

Casey viewed the world's crises through 
the lens of the Cold War. An avowed anti- 
communist and unrelenting opponent of the 
Soviet Union, he became an important ad- 
vocate within the administration for para- 
military actions in Central America and for 
the arming of the mujahideen resistance in 
Afghanistan to fight the Red Army. To the 
CIA director, the Soviet invasion of Afgh- 
anistan fit into a long-standing desire of the 
Russian empire to have a warm-water port, 
only now this dovetailed into controlling 
Middle East oil. He cared little about the re- 
gional conflicts or their long-term con- 
sequences, except in terms of how they af- 
fected the balance of power in the East- West 

One senior CIA officer who worked the 
Middle East recalled having dinner with the 
director in 1986. The conversation turned to 

the long-term American strategy for Afgh- 
anistan after the Soviets had been driven out 
of the country. "What are we going to do 
after we win?" the officer asked Casey. 

"We're not going to do a goddamn thing! 
Once we get the Russians out, we're fin- 
ished," Casey responded, smacking his hands 
together to emphasize the point. That focus 
on the Soviets would blind the United States 
to other perils. 

Casey did not see Iran as an intrinsic 
threat. The Iranian Revolution had been sig- 
nificant, he believed, chiefly because it elim- 
inated America's defender of Persian Gulf oil 
against Soviet expansion. Casey downplayed 
the importance of the Islamist movement be- 
hind Khomeini. Instead, he worried about 
Moscow exploiting the shah's overthrow and 
turning Iran into another Soviet proxy. He 
understood the danger posed by Iranian ter- 
rorism, and the 1985 seizure of William 
Buckley, the CIA station chief in Lebanon, by 

Iranian surrogates would weigh heavily on 
him. But Casey believed the long-term solu- 
tion was to bring Iran back into the anti- 
Soviet fold. In his mind, the CIA needed to 
cultivate political moderates and pro- 
Western reformers in Tehran. Agents were 
needed inside the Iranian government to fa- 
vorably influence and counter its anti-Amer- 
ican stance. 

In the first couple of years after the revolu- 
tion, Casey had a legitimate reason to worry 
about a communist takeover in Iran. The 
pro-Moscow Tudeh Party openly challenged 
Khomeini's rule, waging an urban insurgency 
against the Islamic Republic. In July 1981 it 
bombed the Iranian parliament, killing the 
prime minister and seriously injuring future 
supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who 
lost partial use of his right arm when a bomb 
concealed in a tape recorder exploded beside 
him. Casey saw the hidden hand of Moscow 
behind Iran's leftist opposition and believed 

that if the party succeeded in overthrowing 
the mullahs' rule, it could lead to Iran's be- 
coming a Soviet client state like Cuba. 

In 1983 a Soviet defector presented Willi- 
am Casey the means to strike a fatal blow to 
the communist movement in Iran. In the fall 
of 1982, a senior KGB officer who had been 
stationed in Tehran, Vladimir Kuzichkin, had 
defected to Great Britain, reportedly carrying 
with him a treasure trove of documents on 
Soviet spy operations. London's overseas in- 
telligence organ, MI6, shared this informa- 
tion with its CIA colleagues, who put togeth- 
er a long list of dozens of Soviet spies and 
pro-Moscow Tudeh Party members in Iran. 
Casey ordered this roster surreptitiously 
passed on to Tehran through Iranian exiles. 
Iranian security forces promptly rounded up 
and executed scores of suspected commun- 
ists and socialists. And so, with a little help 
from the CIA, the Islamic Republic eviscer- 
ated its domestic opposition. 5 

Within the CIA's headquarters in Langley, 
Virginia, intelligence officers had differing 
opinions about their director's views of Iran 
and the prospects of influencing the regime. 
The Soviet analysts at Langley tended to 
share Casey's alarmist view, but those in the 
Near East Division remained skeptical. In 
August and September 1983, the CIA's Near 
East Division produced two intelligence as- 
sessments on Soviet-Iranian relations, con- 
cluding that the Soviet efforts to court the 
Islamic Republic had failed, aggravated by 
Iran's support of the mujahideen in Afgh- 
anistan. Subsequent CIA reports came to the 
same conclusion, adding that the Tudeh 
Party had ceased to exist. But Casey re- 
mained unconvinced, grasping at a 1985 
draft report that concluded that the Soviets 
could gain influence through arms sales to 
an Iran desperate for weapons in its war with 

Iraq. 6 

"No one doubted the importance of Iran," 
observed George Cave, one of the agency's 
principal experts on Iran. "If you want stabil- 
ity in the Middle East, you need to have 
some sort of meaningful relationship with 
Iran." However, neither Cave nor the other 
CIA officers working in Langley believed the 
Islamic regime would be wooed by Moscow. 
Khomeini's hatred of the United States was 
eclipsed only by his contempt for atheism 
and communism. The Iranian cleric's vitriol- 
ic Friday sermons were aimed as much at 
Moscow as at Washington. 

"There were reformers in Tehran," noted 
retired CIA official Jack Devine, who had 
worked the Iran desk during the mid-1980s, 
"but they were all by-products of the revolu- 
tion. Their arguments were about economic 

reform and not political." 2 

W hen Casey assumed the CIA director- 
ship, the American espionage effort in Iran 
was in shambles. The CIA station in Tehran 
had been one of the agency's largest in the 
world during the shah's reign. What re- 
mained of the CIA's spy operation had evap- 
orated with the students' takeover of the 
American embassy, with the CIA station 
chief among its hostages. Casey was determ- 
ined to revive human spying within Iran. It 
was one of the most strategically important 
countries in the Middle East, yet the CIA 
knew next to nothing about what was hap- 
pening there. Even such mundane matters as 
annual crop yields eluded U.S. intelligence 
officials. If the Iranian government was lean- 
ing toward Moscow, Casey wanted to know 
about it and position American agents there 
in hopes of drawing Iran back to the United 
States' side of the Cold War. 

The CIA's mission in Iran became an early 
subject of discussion within the Reagan ad- 
ministration. Expanding the number of hu- 
man spies there was an obvious requirement. 
Shortly after taking office, Reagan signed a 
presidential finding— an authorization of a 
covert operation required by law— approving 
a renewed effort to build a spy network in 

The administration had less certainty 
about the wisdom of actually trying to over- 
throw the regime. On March 9, 1981, the 
NSC principals, with no aides or note takers, 
met in the White House Situation Room for a 
closely held deliberation on possible covert 
actions against Iran. The select assemblage 
agreed to search for a group that "we can 
support [in] destabilizing Iran," according to 
a handwritten note kept by one of the at- 
tendees. Exactly which group to throw Amer- 
ica's weight behind, however, eluded the at- 
tendees. They contemplated aiding the 

Kurds, but quickly rejected that out of fear of 
angering an important NATO ally, Turkey. 
Casey recommended looking at exile groups 
headed by former Iranian military officers 
and other separatist movements, such as the 
one in Baluchistan. 

On September 30, Reagan's foreign policy 
doyens met for another meeting on Iran in 
the White House Cabinet Room. Chaired by 
the national security adviser, Richard Allen, 
they finalized a National Security Decision 
Directive on Iran for Reagan's signature. The 
men agreed on two key policy goals: prevent- 
ing Soviet domination of Iran, and keeping 
the Iranian Revolution from spreading 
across the Middle East. The key, they be- 
lieved, was pulling Iran back into the Amer- 
ican Cold War camp. This would not be easy. 
The United States' ability to subvert the Ira- 
nian government was negligible; a CIA coup 
a la 1953 had little chance of success and 
would only fuel more anti-Americanism, to 

the advantage of Moscow. Nevertheless, they 
believed there were actions the U.S. govern- 
ment could take to influence the Islamic Re- 
public: expanding Voice of America broad- 
casts, working with allies who had more in- 
fluence within the Iranian government, and 
seeking out moderates within the Iranian 
government. The goal would be to cultivate 
pro-American military personnel and civil- 
ians who could steer the Iranian policies 
away from the Soviet Union and moderate 
the regime's anti-American opinions. Casey's 
officers would try to reach out to "forces in 
Iran favoring a more moderate government," 

as one memo described it. 

A day or two later, President Reagan 
signed an executive order directing the CIA 
to begin an important wide-ranging opera- 
tion called the Iranian Covert Action Pro- 
gram. Its objective was to moderate Iranian 
behavior toward the United States and to un- 
dercut the expansion of the Iranian 

Revolution. Intelligence officers began look- 
ing for Iranians inside and outside the coun- 
try who favored better relations with the Un- 
ited States and who were positioned to influ- 
ence key government officials. The CIA 
launched a broad influence campaign. The 
Voice of America stepped up its Farsi broad- 
casts to blunt anti-American propaganda in 
the Iranian media. Working through 
Pakistan, the CIA promoted greater ties 
between Iran and the mujahideen fighting 
the Red Army in Afghanistan, with the goal 
of highlighting the Soviet threat and the 
shared objectives between Washington and 
Tehran in seeing the Soviets defeated. The 
CIA began indirectly passing intelligence to 
Tehran via the Swiss and Algerian govern- 
ments that highlighted Soviet designs on 
Iran and stressed Washington's support for 
Iran's territorial integrity. 

The administration remained divided on 
armed subversion inside Iran. The Iranian 

Covert Action Program signed by President 
Reagan prohibited providing weapons for 
either exiles or internal dissidents. But in 
1982, when the program came up for its an- 
nual review, the Reagan administration de- 
bated the wisdom of this prohibition. "If the 
United States was really serious about coun- 
tering the Iranian threat, why not arm the 
Islamic Republic's opposition?" said Charles 
Cogan, the CIA's chief for Near East and 
South Asia, during a meeting at the White 
House in 1982. "The basic issue is whether 
the present regime in Iran is in U.S. 

Robert McFarlane, the deputy national se- 
curity adviser, believed the United States 
should explore more extreme measures to 
overthrow the Iranian regime. In a Septem- 
ber 10, 1982, memo, he wrote, "It is difficult 
to come to a judgment on the issue without 
altering the 'halfway house' finding: that is, 
lift the restriction against providing lethal 

weapons to the Iranian opposition. This hav- 
ing been done, we could explore with the Ira- 
nian opposition and with friendly govern- 
ments there of possibly creating disturb- 
ances within Iran." 

Caspar Weinberger concurred. The de- 
fense secretary frequently voiced the need to 
look at a more ambitious program to replace, 
or at least significantly undermine, the 
Islamic Republic. Arming an opposition 
movement might not lead to an overthrow of 
Khomeini, but forcing Iran to battle a fifth 
column might sap the revolutionary energy 
that otherwise would be directed outward to- 
ward friendly Arab governments. 

Casey agreed with Weinberger. Supporting 
an Iranian insurgency was no different than 
what he was already doing with the Contras 
in Nicaragua and the mujahideen in Afgh- 
anistan. "An enhanced covert action program 
against Iran would provide reassurance to 
the Saudis and others of our serious interest 

in containing Iran," wrote an NSC staffer in 
laying out for Casey and Weinberger the pros 
of a more aggressive paramilitary operation 
against Iran. 

On July 13, 1982, President Reagan con- 
curred with a recommendation by his na- 
tional security team for the CIA to explore 
building an armed opposition against Iran. 
Feelers were sent out via intelligence circles 
to both Saudi Arabia and Oman about build- 
ing an insurgency within Iran, including fun- 
neling arms for the insurgents through the 
two countries in order to distance Washing- 
ton from the operation. A joint military-CIA 
team traveled to Oman to look at a proposed 
base for the guerrilla army on the Musandam 
Peninsula, the jut of land that the Strait of 
Hormuz wraps around. During intelligence 
exchanges with Baghdad, the CIA floated the 
idea to the Iraqis of working together to sub- 
vert the Iranian government. Not 

surprisingly, Saddam Hussein eagerly em- 
braced the idea. 

However, in the end Reagan never ap- 
proved fomenting an armed counterrevolu- 
tion within Iran. "The downside always out- 
weighed the gain," said McFarlane. 9 The CIA 
eventually concluded that no armed group 
could seriously challenge the regime. The 
State Department consistently voiced con- 
cern that it would only fuel even greater anti- 
Americanism and destroy any hope of recon- 
ciliation, a view shared by many CIA ana- 
lysts. After months of debate and discussions 
about building an insurgency in Iran, the 
idea died the death of inaction. 

Ouilding a spy network in Iran would 
not be an easy proposition. Iran was, in the 
parlance of the spy business, a "denied coun- 
try." With no American embassy to provide 

cover for CIA officers or to serve as a base of 
operations, the agency would have to infilt- 
rate Iran from outside the country. The CIA 
established a new office to run its Iranian op- 
erations inside one wing of the I.G. Farben 
building in Frankfurt, the same headquarters 
housing ISA, the U.S. Army's V Corps, and 
the military's regional clandestine opera- 
tions. It also quietly served as the main sup- 
port base for CIA operations in Europe, 
Africa, and the Middle East. Langley called 
its new unit "Tehfran," an amalgam of 
Tehran and Frankfurt. Germany provided re- 
liable cover for the operation; after 1979, 
many Iranian exiles had settled there. Bonn 
maintained diplomatic relations with 
Tehran, and Iranians often traveled to 
Frankfurt. The CIA could easily bring re- 
cruits to the city for screening and training, 
as well as for the occasional rendezvous 
between handlers and agents. 12 

"Tehfran" began the painstaking process of 
recruiting agents. As Turkey did not require 
a visa for Iranian citizens, it served as a cor- 
ridor for those trying to escape the repres- 
sion under the ayatollah. Ankara and Istan- 
bul swelled with Persian expatriates looking 
to obtain visas to travel to Europe or the Un- 
ited States. 

Turkey quickly took center stage in the spy 
contest between Washington and Tehran. 
The CIA used the American consulate in 
Istanbul as a recruiting center for Tehfran, 
with an intelligence officer assigned to 
identify potential Iranians for recruitment. 
The grounds around the consulate became a 
favorite recruiting locale for American intel- 
ligence officers. 

"It was a heavy workload," recalled Philip 
Giraldi, who worked in the Istanbul consu- 
late and ran its Iranian operations from 1986 
to 1989. Sifting through the stacks of visa ap- 
plications for those in the military or with 

political connections, he conducted around 
twenty interviews each week, with one or two 
showing promise. "Of these, one every 
couple of months we would actually go after 
and pitch. And the pitches were frequently 


The CIA found fertile ground among Irani- 
an military officers. Many had attended 
schools in the United States and had close 
friends in the U.S. military. The navy and air 
force were the most pro-American, and Gir- 
aldi himself recruited three senior air force 
officers, including a brigadier general. CIA 
case officers across Europe were on the 
watch for important Iranians, people "need- 
ing a favor with information we could use," 
as one retired CIA employee put it. Operat- 
ing under diplomatic cover and using ficti- 
tious first names, the CIA encouraged their 
recruits' sympathies for the United States or 
their abhorrence of communism. If that 
failed, the Americans used coercion to obtain 

cooperation, dangling a coveted visa to the 
United States for a recruit's family in return 
for spying for Langley. This proved one of 
the most effective means employed by the 
CIA to obtain cooperation.— 

One of those recruited by Giraldi in 
September 1986 was a prominent air force 
colonel, Masoud Babaii, who'd flown to 
Istanbul with his family to request a visa for 
the United States. Babaii spoke good Eng- 
lish, having graduated from pilot training in 
Texas. He openly cooperated with Giraldi 
during his interview and volunteered de- 
tailed information about the status of the 
Iranian air force and the war with Iraq. "He 
was one of the nicest guys you'd ever want to 
meet," Giraldi recalled. The CIA brought in a 
Farsi speaker to make the pitch to work for 
the Americans. Babaii agreed to go back to 
Iran for several years in return for a guaran- 
teed visa for him and his family. 13 

vJne of the naval officers who accepted 
the American pitch was Captain Touradj Ri- 
ahi. Highly regarded by fellow Iranian of- 
ficers, Riahi rose rapidly to command a 
squadron of American-made minesweeping 
helicopters. Fluent in English, fair skinned 
with light brown hair and a matching mus- 
tache, Captain Riahi, like many secular of- 
ficers, felt no affinity for the new religious 
government. He was fond of the United 
States and had relatives in Hawaii. Aspects 
of the Western lifestyle embraced by Riahi 
were not acceptable under Ayatollah 
Khomeini's rule. The captain made wine in 
his basement. He and his wife entertained 
and played cards as the alcohol flowed freely, 
with even his daughter allowed to sample oc- 
casionally. 14 

In the winter of 1985, Captain Riahi 
traveled to Ankara, Turkey, seeking a U.S. 
visa for his son to live with an aunt in 

Hawaii. This was not an easy proposition for 
an Iranian military officer. But his son was 
two years away from mandatory military ser- 
vice, and Captain Riahi wished to save him 
from becoming one more martyr in the war 
with Iraq. Five years of war and revolution 
had brought only ruin, he believed. While he 
remained an ardent nationalist, he felt grow- 
ing disdain for the governing clergy, whom 
he thought were intent on taking Iran back 
from modernity. While it was painful to send 
his son away, Riahi believed the United 
States offered him and his family the best 

Captain Riahi made his way to the sprawl- 
ing American embassy off a bustling divided 
highway named Ataturk Boulevard. He sub- 
mitted passport photos and filled out a de- 
tailed visa application. A few days later, he 
interviewed with an American Foreign Ser- 
vice officer and at one point met with an em- 
bassy employee who introduced himself only 

as "Parker." Pleasant and nondescript, Park- 
er offered to cut through the red tape and 
speedily stamp his son's visa request. It 
could be done quickly enough through the 
West German embassy, he told the Iranian 
captain. In return, though, Parker wanted in- 
formation on the Iranian military. 

Captain Riahi agreed to Parker's terms out 
of both pragmatism and idealism. "He was a 
good man but naive when it came to the 
harsh reality of espionage," a close friend, 
Commander Said Zanganeh, recalled later. 
"He thought they [CIA] would take care of 
him." 15 

Using a false passport, Riahi flew with a 
CIA officer to Frankfurt, Germany, where he 
underwent a standard lie detector test to en- 
sure he was not a double agent for Iranian 
intelligence. While his son's visa was being 
arranged, the CIA trained him on how to 
communicate with his handlers. Thus Cap- 
tain Riahi officially became a U.S. 

intelligence agent, or, as an Iranian com- 
mentator later put it, one of those "who had 
sold their faith and honor for the CIA's de- 
ceptive glamour. 

The CIA recruited at least five naval of- 
ficers. 12 One of the agency's most valuable 
trophies was a close friend of Riahi's, Com- 
modore Kanoush Hakimi, who'd played a 
key role in negotiating many of Iran's sensit- 
ive arms agreements. His major success had 
been the purchase of powerful Chinese Silk- 
worm antiship missiles that would enable 
Iran to control the Strait of Hormuz by 
threatening ships navigating this choke point 

for the world's oil. 

n addition to the military officers, the 

CIA recruited a diverse group of civilians. 
This included a lawyer in the Iranian foreign 
ministry, local government officials, an 

engineer employed at a chemical factory— all 
with access to the broad range of informa- 
tion needed by American intelligence. 12 The 
CIA even managed to penetrate Iran's elite 
Revolutionary Guard. Among those recruited 
from the Revolutionary Guard, divisions ex- 
isted, despite their overt loyalty to the state. 
Some were young idealists who'd joined the 
revolution and then rebelled against the op- 
pressive republic that emerged. Others 
simply wanted a better life in America. 

One of those recruited was a Revolution- 
ary Guard official known by his pseudonym, 
Reza Kahlili. From an upper-middle-class 
family, he had attended school in California, 
where an aunt lived. He'd joined the guard 
with some friends out of youthful enthusi- 
asm. While one friend went on to a senior 
position in the guard's intelligence unit, Kah- 
lili served in a propaganda unit, which prized 
his English-language skills. 

His disillusionment had occurred after a 
visit to Evin Prison. While he witnessed re- 
peated beatings of political prisoners or their 
family members, the most repugnant act he 
viewed was the deliberate rape of two women 
before their execution. Their crimes were 
little more than being related to the wrong 
person. But according to religious belief, vir- 
gins could go to heaven despite their crimes. 
The head of the Revolutionary Court, Ayatol- 
lah Mohammad Gilani, ordered the guards to 
rape the two women to deprive them of any 
chance of salvation. 22 Repulsed, Kahlili flew 
back to California to visit his aunt. After 
briefly contemplating defecting, he decided 
to contact the FBI and offer his services and 
information. They passed him on to the CIA, 
which after the usual polygraph and back- 
ground checks formally brought him into the 
agency's stable of agents. 

Analysts back in Washington generated a 
laundry list of questions for these agents: 

How was the Revolutionary Guard Corps or- 
ganized, and what were its military tactics? 
Who were the rising religious leaders? What 
were people worried about domestically? 
What was the political situation in Kurdistan 

and other provinces?— 

In Frankfurt, Tehfran employed several 
means of communicating with its agents in- 
side Iran. A few agents received specialized 
equipment that allowed for encrypted burst 
transmissions to be sent over regular phone 
lines back to Tehfran. For Kahlili and others, 
they purchased standard shortwave radios 
on the black market and, at predetermined 
times, listened for Morse-coded messages 
that came across the airwaves as blocks of 
numbers. A separately provided paper cipher 
translated those numbers into individual let- 

The CIAs prime means of communicating 
with agents was an old trick, dating back a 
century: invisible ink. Its various formulas 

remained some of the oldest secrets held at 
the National Archives, with some not declas- 
sified until 2011. 23 The Iranian spies would 
respond using more-or-less-invisible (MLI) 
writing tools— plastic pens and other items 
coated with a special chemical that left a hid- 
den residue that could be retrieved by apply- 
ing the proper solution. Kahlili used specially 
treated writing paper. On the front, he would 
write innocuous letters to fictitious friends in 
Frankfurt. On the back, using a special MLI 
pencil, he wrote his message, which re- 
mained invisible until the CIA officer in 
Tehran washed the paper with a special solu- 
tion. 24 Hundreds of these letters traveled 
between Iran and Germany— one air force of- 
ficer admitted to sending no letters himself 
back to Tehfran. 25 

The spy network produced a mixed bag of 
rumor and fact. None of the recruited spies 
was senior enough to influence the regime or 
shed much light on Iran's position toward 

the superpowers, as Casey had hoped. They 
frequently reported erroneous informa- 
tion.— One agent told his American handlers 
that Iran had provided helicopters to 
Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group, and 
intended to arm it with missiles. To confirm 
the report, the CIA consulted all its Iranian 
sources, including debriefing an Iranian pilot 
who had recently defected to Iraq. In the 
end, intelligence officials concluded that the 
report was false, based on little more than 
barroom gossip picked up in the Iranian of- 
ficers' club. 

But the agents did provide useful informa- 
tion that helped Washington undermine 
Iran's military adventures. One agent tipped 
off the CIA to an attempt by Iran to purchase 
French-made Exocet antiship missiles, al- 
lowing the State Department to intervene 
and scuttle the sale. An aircraft mechanic for 
the Iranian air force provided important dia- 
grams of the large Iranian air base near 

Bushehr. Others helped identity key Iranian 
naval and air force targets for the U.S. milit- 
ary, including the location of important com- 
mand and control facilities used by the Re- 
volutionary Guard. 

In addition to recruiting spies, the Irani- 
an Covert Action Plan authorized the CIA to 
cultivate Iranian exile groups. The anti- 
Khomeini movement began shortly after the 
shah's overthrow. As early as August 1979, 
CIA sources had begun reporting efforts by 
former Iranian military officers to organize 
an external opposition to the clerics in 
Tehran. One of the first gatherings had oc- 
curred in London, led by former Iranian air 
force general Hassan Toufanian, an impress- 
ive man whom General Huyser referred to as 
"a human dynamo, running on 110 percent." 
He'd brought together in a London hotel 
former Imperial Iranian officers from across 

Europe and the United States to plot and dis- 
cuss ways to overthrow the Khomeini re- 
gime. The Iranian government learned of 
this meeting following the U.S. embassy 
takeover, when students pieced the strips of 
the shredded message that described 
Toufanian's gathering in London back to- 
gether. 22 

The CIA paid millions of dollars each year 
to several expatriate organizations believed 
to have access into the Iranian leadership. A 
favorite of Casey's was the group headed by 
Rear Admiral Ahmad Madani, based in Ger- 
many. The son of a prominent clerical Shiite 
family, Madani had been a strong supporter 
of the revolution and was its first defense 
minister before falling out of favor with the 
Islamists. He still maintained strong con- 
tacts within the Iranian military.— 

According to an account by author Ken- 
neth Timmerman, in January 1983 Casey 
and White House deputy chief of staff 

Michael Deaver met with the shah's oldest 
son, Cyrus Reza Pahlavi, at the Chevy Chase 
Club outside of Washington, D.C. The 
twenty-two-year-old Reza launched into a 
monologue about the weakness of the Islam- 
ic government, its growing economic crisis, 
and the opportunity this presented to rees- 
tablish the monarchy. "The people of Iran 
will carry His Majesty to Tehran on their 
shoulders!" an aide added. 

The shah's son proposed that the agency 
help him fund a network of former Iranian 
intelligence agents to gather information in- 
side Iran as part of a scheme to return him to 
power. It was pure fantasy; the young shah 
had no support within Iran. But it offered 
what Casey and the administration wanted 
to hear. Despite the widespread disdain for 
the Pahlavi family within Iran, Casey agreed 
to pay a monthly stipend to support the juni- 
or shah's efforts. 22 

As part of the campaign against the Irani- 
an regime, the CIA secretly financed an 
Egyptian radio station that broadcast four 
hours of anti-Khomeini propaganda daily in- 
to Iran. The station ran stories designed to 
highlight the problems of Khomeini's rule, 
from food shortages to the brutal excesses of 

the Revolutionary Guard. 32 The agency sup- 
ported a television broadcast into Iran by 
Reza that managed to disrupt two channels 
for precisely eleven minutes on September 5, 
1986— an amount of time, said one cynical 
retired CIA operative, that was synonymous 
with the young man's abilities. 

The exiles proved to have limited utility, 
and CIA officials viewed them with consider- 
able suspicion. "Exiles operate on rumint," 
said retired operative Jack Devine, using an 
unofficial acronym for rumor and intelli- 
gence. "They're often penetrated by double 
agents, or working their own agenda, which 
does not necessarily meet the U.S. objectives. 

They are never the pathway back to power. 
But they are always out there and can usually 
find an audience." 

The longtime Iran operative George Cave 
became disenchanted early with the opposi- 
tion groups. In July 1980, a cadre of high- 
ranking air force officers had hatched a plan 
to decapitate the entire revolutionary gov- 
ernment by bombing key government and 
military sites in Tehran, starting with 
Khomeini's home. The commander of the 
Iranian air force, Major General Saeed Mah- 
diyoun, was to spearhead the effort inside 
Iran. The son of a wealthy Tabriz merchant 
and reputedly one of the air force's best pi- 
lots, he quietly assembled several dozen F-4 
aircraft at a large fighter base, Nojeh, near 
Tehran. Under the cover of darkness, three 
aircraft would bomb Khomeini's home, hit- 
ting every building in the compound with a 
massive ordnance of 750-pound bombs, 
cluster bombs, and precision-guided 

weapons. In quick succession other jets 
would strike the prime minister's and the 
president's residences, army barracks, and 
the headquarters of the Revolutionary 
Guard. With Khomeini dead, Shapour Bakh- 
tiar would enter the country from Iraq at the 
head of a force of exiles. He would join forces 
with disaffected elements within the army to 
overthrow the Islamic Republic. The Nojeh 
coup, as it became known, involved much of 
the expatriate community. Admiral Madani 
in Germany provided funding. 

Yet neither Bakhtiar nor any other coup 
leaders disclosed the plan's details to the 
CIA, perhaps to avoid revealing Saddam 
Hussein's complicity. During a meeting with 
Cave in Paris, Bakhtiar asked the CIA to 
provide helicopters to move his operatives 
"inside of and around Iran." When Cave 
pressed for specifics— when, where, why, 
how many men— Bakhtiar remained evasive. 
Shortly before the attack was to begin, 

someone inside the expatriate community 
tipped off the Iranian embassy in Paris. The 
Iranian government moved quickly, round- 
ing up hundreds of people. General Mah- 
diyoun, the air force commander, was forced 
to confess before a videotaped kangaroo 
court. He was found guilty, and his execu- 
tioners gouged out one eye before riddling 
his body with bullets. 

"The exiles refused to cooperate with each 
other," Cave said with irritation, looking 
back on the disparate groups trying to over- 
throw Ayatollah Khomeini. "They all wanted 
to be in charge." He used to joke that "every 
Iranian male is born with a chip in his brain 
that periodically broadcasts: 'I am the leader 
of the Iranian people.'" 

W illiam Casey and the CIA had another 

Iran-obsessed client: the U.S. Department of 
Defense. In the summer of 1981, General 

Kingston revised CENTCOM's plans to re- 
spond to a Soviet invasion of Iran. A key ele- 
ment of General Kingston's new scheme 
would involve deployment of clandestine 
special forces teams to organize a guerrilla 
army and to conduct sabotage behind the 
Russian front lines. But the military needed 
the CIA to develop an indigenous support or- 
ganization inside Iran. Existing legal man- 
dates authorized only the CIA to conduct 
covert paramilitary operations in peacetime 
(i.e., any mission intended to conceal Amer- 
ican involvement and permit plausible deni- 
ability by Washington). In theory, the CIA 
would build the foundation of an indigenous 
paramilitary network in peacetime, which 
the much larger U.S. Army Special 
Forces— better known as Green Berets due to 
their unique headgear— would exploit during 

wartime. 31 But the CIA's paramilitary opera- 
tions had to be coordinated with Kingston. 
The agency's schemes needed to be 

synchronized with the military war plans to 
make sure the two were not working at 

In the spring of 1982 the CIA and Defense 
Department began working on a combined 
plan for Iran. With Kingston's extensive ex- 
perience with the CIA, he persuaded the de- 
fense secretary to agree to fund a CIA opera- 
tion to build a covert paramilitary network 
within Iran. This would serve as the founda- 
tion upon which Kingston's special forces 
could conduct their insurgency against the 

Red Army. 32 Casey eagerly supported the 
agreement. It offered one more avenue to de- 
velop new contacts in Iran— and with De- 
fense Department money. 

Iran required a major commitment by the 
CIA. The spy agency had to build a fifth 
column within Iran designed to undermine 
any "Vichy-type governments" installed by 
Moscow, as one Defense Department memo 
described it. The CIA needed to recruit the 

Iranians who would greet American para- 
chutists arriving in the middle of the night. 
The agency had to provide the military in- 
formation on roads, bridges, and airfields, 
establish mustering stations for arriving 
American troops, conduct sabotage, and res- 
cue pilots who were shot down. 

To manage the paramilitary effort in Iran, 
the CIA created a new organization— given 
the nonsensical cover name "BQ Tug"— in- 
side the Tehfran cell at Frankfurt. Langley 
chose a former Army Special Forces of- 
ficer—described by former CIA officer Reuel 
Gerecht as "earthy but likable"— to run the 
their mission. He worked closely with a small 
cadre of military officers at the Central Com- 
mand headquarters in Tampa, who identi- 
fied specific targets for the Iranian agents to 
destroy and airfields the U.S. military 
wanted to use to support the Pentagon's war 

With a few million dollars from the 
Pentagon, BQ Tug recruited more than half a 
dozen teams, four to six men each. The 
teams included Iranian military officers, a 
smattering of senior enlisted men, and peas- 
ants from villages the U.S. military con- 
sidered strategically positioned. Much of the 
recruiting was conducted in Iranian 
Azerbaijan in northwestern Iran and astride 

the border with the Soviet Union. 33 Some of 
the Iranian agents' only responsibility was to 
keep watch on the Soviet forces across the 
border or to monitor important border towns 
such as Jolfa, where all imports and exports 
from Iran to the Soviet Union traveled across 

a major highway and railway line. 34 The CIA 
tried to bring team leaders out for a poly- 
graph and some training. Several recruits 
later claimed they were flown to Oman for 
specialized weapons and explosives training. 

The CIA's pitch to each recruit down- 
played his employment by the United States 

and emphasized the necessity of defending 
Iran from atheists and anti-Islamic com- 
munists. They were serving their country by 
helping the United States defend Iran 
against communism. 

A typical recruit was Muhammad Zanif- 
Yeganeh, a housing department employee in 
northern Iran. He later claimed that a friend 
already on the CIA payroll had enticed him 
to travel to Turkey on the pretense of buying 
crystal to sell on the black market. He later 
described being approached by an American 
Farsi speaker who asked him about working 
with the United States to help protect Iran 
from a Russian attack. With five hundred 
dollars a month as added incentive, he 
agreed. He surveyed a remote poultry farm 
as a potential landing zone for U.S. forces 
and sent a detailed map of the area back to 

Frankfurt. 35 The farm owner was also re- 
cruited and added to Yeganeh's team, and 

the two men identified other landing zones 
for helicopters. 

At one point the CIA considered using 
these agents to conduct covert attacks 
against the Khomeini regime. One proposal 
was to use the BQ Tug agents to bomb sens- 
itive Iranian military sites such as command 
and control centers in Tehran or the port of 
Bushehr— "the bomb in the Hitler bunker," 
as one retired CIA officer described it. At the 
Pentagon's request, the CIA looked into us- 
ing them to attack launch sites for the new 
Chinese antiship missiles around the Strait 
of Hormuz in 1987. However, none of these 
proposals materialized. 

"Agents are funny people," observed 
Howard Hart, a longtime CIA officer. "Few 
are willing to make that leap of actually put- 
ting bombs or attacking their own country. 
They will give you chapter and verse and 
GPS coordinates for sensitive sites, but it's a 

1HV mji 

huge leap to actually blow it up them- 
selves." 3 ^ 

Despite Casey's support, many inside the 
CIA viewed BQ Tug as a waste of time. The 
operations directorate did not always assign 
the best officers to BQ Tug. Its liaison in the 
headquarters at Langley was a CIA officer 
who had recently filed a disability lawsuit 
against the agency over his supposed chronic 
back pain, which he eventually won, forcing 
the CIA to buy him a special chair to sit in 
until his retirement. 

On one occasion, the deputy chief of Te- 
hfran, a former military officer, flew into 
Turkey with eight fake Iranian passports for 
operatives who were scheduled to go back in- 
to Iran on a collection mission. "He was a 
klutz," Philip Giraldi recalled. "He could 
screw anything up." After issuing the phony 
documents, the Tehfran deputy collected the 
real passports of the Iranian agents, stuffed 
them in his coat, and headed to the airport to 

fly back to Frankfurt. When he went through 
the metal detector, two pens in his shirt 
pocket set off the metal detector, and he was 
ordered to empty out his pockets. The Turk- 
ish security guards found the bundle of pass- 
ports and arrested him. When the Tehfran 
deputy chief did not arrive back in Frankfurt, 
Giraldi was sent out looking for him. When 
Giraldi arrived at the deputy's hotel, Turkish 
police arrested him too. As Giraldi was an 
embassy employee with a diplomatic pass- 
port, the Turks released him. But it required 
considerable effort, involving some favors 
with Turkish intelligence, to get Tehfran's 
deputy released. 

"Its mission was a joke; no one took it seri- 
ously," said one CIA officer. "The Soviets 
were not likely to invade Iran. If they did, 
these half dozen teams would have the effect 
of a gnat hitting a truck." More important, 
the Iranian regime was decidedly hostile to 
the United States and no one could say what 

Ayatollah Khomeini's reaction would be to 
the arrival of U.S. Special Forces inside Iran. 
As another CIA officer observed: "We now 
had a plan to defend those who don't want to 
be defended against those who are not going 
to attack." 

W hile the United States recruited spies 
and paid exile groups, the agents of Iran's 
Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) 
did not remain idle. From the days of the 
shah and Savak, the Iranians excelled at 
counterintelligence. The new Iranian intelli- 
gence service was formed in August 1984 by 
combining several smaller intelligence 
groups that sprang up after the revolution. 
Surprisingly, considering the hatred 
Khomeini's backers had for the shah's secret 
police, MOIS employed a large number of 
former Savak officers— perhaps one-third of 
those working for MOIS had worked for the 

shah. They proved equally as formidable in 
addressing security threats for the Islamic 
Republic as they had for the royal regime. 

Iran received some assistance from other 
spy services eager to undermine the CIA. 
Despite the Islamic Republic's disdain for 
communism, common purpose overcame 
ideology when the MOIS developed cooper- 
ative relationships with both East German 

and Romanian intelligence services. 32 The 
Romanians provided new technology and 
trained the Iranians on spy craft. The East 
Germans conducted surveillance of Tehfran's 
activities in Frankfurt, providing important 
pieces to fill in the American spy puzzle. 

The MOIS external security directorate 
tracked dissident groups. It created small hit 
teams, blending in with Iranians traveling to 
Turkey, to assassinate critics of the Islamic 
regime. Moving from Istanbul to Western 
Europe, the teams carried out dozens of 
beatings, stabbings, bombings, and other 

acts of intimidation and murder. In August 
1991, for example, three Iranian men talked 
their way past a French guard and into the 
house of the shah's last prime minister, 
Shapour Bakhtiar. They then killed him and 
his secretary with a kitchen knife. U.S. intel- 
ligence attributed more than eighty killings 
to MOIS agents between 1980 and 1995, the 
date of the last known Iranian assassination. 
Few MOIS officers were apprehended; they 
typically left only a body, say, on a Paris side- 
walk, with a bullet in the back of the head as 
testimony to their handiwork. 

Unfortunately for the CIA, many of 
MOIS's victims were prospective American 
recruits. The MOIS staked out the U.S. em- 
bassies that were trying to enlist Iranian cit- 
izens and were not shy about killing suspec- 
ted American collaborators. Philip Giraldi 
frankly admitted that "the Iranians in partic- 
ular were very good and often were able to 
identify and assassinate our agents. These 

were people who were providing information 
to the U.S. embassy and CIA station in Ank- 

On a few occasions, the Iranians tried to 
run double agents to Tehfran. Reuel Gerecht, 
a large, gregarious Farsi speaker who re- 
placed Giraldi at the consulate in Istanbul, 
uncovered two MOIS agents during his inter- 
views with visa applicants. Both men seemed 
too eager to offer their services and informa- 
tion about the Iranian government. 

Iran soon uncovered Casey's spy ring. 
According to former Iran minister of intelli- 
gence and security Mohammad Reyshahri, in 
July 1985 the MOIS was alerted when the 
CIA tried to recruit a midlevel government 
official in Iranian Azerbaijan for BQ Tug. 39 
Unfortunately, the United States approached 
the wrong guy. Rather than cooperate, he 

immediately alerted MOIS to the CIA re- 
cruitment drive. Then the Iranians rolled up 
two CIA agents working in the Iranian for- 
eign ministry. One had foolishly kept all the 
coded messages received over the radio from 
his CIA handler in his house. The MOIS dis- 
covered these as well as his codebooks and 
his radio. 

The MOIS was nothing but patient. For 
the next few years, its counterintelligence of- 
ficers painstakingly unraveled the CIA's spy 
network. It recruited its own spies within the 
Iranian military to keep watch on senior of- 
ficers who might be susceptible to the CIA's 
pitch. Junior officers were encouraged to spy 
on senior officers. For Captain Riahi, the 
MOIS recruited a first lieutenant and fellow 
pilot to monitor his movements. Aware of a 
possible compromise, Reza Kahlili's case of- 
ficer instructed him to change his codes. He 
and the others did, and continued to relay in- 
formation back to Tehfran as Langley 

remained ignorant of the calamity that 
would befall them. Meanwhile the MOIS 

watched and waited. 42 


A Fig Leaf of Neutrality 

.Heading east toward Iran from the 

compact squalor of Iraq's second- largest 
city, Basra, the specter of an old battlefield 
fills the barren landscape. Clearly discern- 
able on either side of the bumpy, dusty road 
choked with trucks, dilapidated taxis, and 
donkey carts are miles of trenches crisscross- 
ing the desert, stretching off in all directions 
to the horizon. Endless rows of U-shaped 
earthen berms and large triangular fighting 
positions are slowly eroding, the tanks that 
once occupied them long since removed for 
other wars or stripped for scrap metal by the 
local villagers. Craters large and small pock- 
mark the desert moonscape. Rain and wind 
frequently reveal the bleached bones of 

hastily buried soldiers, some still wearing 
boots and pieces of now indistinguishable 
uniforms, their sculls broken and cracked by 
bullets and hot metal. Twenty years after the 
fighting ended, unexploded ordnance litter- 
ing the desert floor regularly takes the lives 
of civilians who stray off the roads and 
beaten paths. 

These scenes testify to one of the bloodiest 
wars since World War II: the eight-year 
slaughter of the Iran-Iraq War. When it mer- 
cifully ended in August 1988, neither side 
had achieved very much: the border was un- 
changed, no territory had been gained, and 
both Saddam Hussein and Ayatollah 
Khomeini remained in power, safely seated 
in their respective capitals. But well over a 
million men had given the full measure of 
devotion, with perhaps four times that num- 
ber permanently maimed. It was a war of in- 
competence, two lumbering giants re- 
peatedly hammering each other with the 

clubs of modern firepower, killing thousands 
with each swing but achieving little. Institu- 
tional constraints hamstrung both countries, 
preventing any learning curve of more than a 
gentle glide slope. The Iraqi leader, Saddam 
Hussein, a military neophyte, frowned upon 
commanders who showed either initiative or 
too much battlefield prowess. Iran's once 
mighty military had been gutted by the re- 
volution. Instead of using tanks, infantry, 
and aircraft in a combined arms doctrine of a 
modern military, Khomeini and the revolu- 
tionary commanders believed elan and re- 
volutionary zeal in the form of human wave 
assaults could overcome rows of Iraqi tanks 
and artillery laid hub to hub. 

While the war achieved little militarily, it 
had a pronounced effect on the region. Iran 
spent its revolutionary fervor, leaving the 
country isolated, with a profound sense of 
grievance and insecurity. The war ushered in 
Iraq's military supremacy and two decades of 

wars between Saddam Hussein and the 
West. It left the Gulf Arabs deeply suspicious 
of Iran. For the United States, heightened 
fear of an Iranian threat to Washington's 
control over Middle East oil led to an un- 
likely alliance with Iraq that Washington 
would soon regret. 

addam Hussein was both pragmatic 

and paranoid. The descendant of Sunni 
shepherds from the town of Tikrit north of 
Baghdad, the dark-haired, mustached Hus- 
sein had risen through the ranks of the so- 
cialist Baath Party initially as an enforcer, 
before he ascended to the presidency in 1979. 
While he advocated secularism and Western 
socialist ideals such as universal education 
and women's suffrage, his true focus was 
political survival and personal aggrandize- 
ment. Saddam Hussein's political savvy was 
combined with ruthless suspicion. Anyone 

who appeared too capable might find himself 
imprisoned or executed. "Saddam was al- 
ways wary of intelligent people," said Ali 
Hassan al-Majid, better known as "Chemical 
Ali" for his role in gassing hundreds of Kurd- 
ish civilians in 1988 to crush a perceived haz- 
ard to Saddam's rule. 1 

The Iraqi leader soon found himself in the 
crosshairs of the Iranian Revolution. Ayatol- 
lah Khomeini had not forgotten that Saddam 
Hussein had ordered his expulsion from Iraq 
at the behest of the shah. The supreme lead- 
er held Saddam and his secular Baathist 
Party in contempt. Khomeini publicly criti- 
cized the Iraqi regime as "corrupters of the 
true faith" and openly called for Iraq's ma- 
jority Shia population to revolt. The ayatol- 
lah emphasized the unity of all Muslims, re- 
jecting traditional Western concepts of 
nation-states and national identity. The 
umma, or community, was the sole basis for 
Islamic politics, and the Prophet's concept of 

a united Islamic nation drove the Iranian re- 
volutionary vision. "We will export our re- 
volution throughout the wo rid... until the 
calls 'There is no god but God and 
Muhammad is the messenger of God' are 
echoed all over the world," said the supreme 
leader during one of many similar-themed 
Friday sermons. 

Khomeini's words were matched by ac- 
tions. Iran began backing Kurdish separat- 
ists in northern Iraq. Iranian agent pro- 
vocateurs infiltrated Iraq, providing weapons 
and training to Shia opposition groups. Iran 
increased support for the Iraqi Shia militant 
group Islamic Dawa Party, which included a 
number of future leaders of Iraq, including 
prime ministers Ibrahim al-Jaafari and 
Nouri al-Maliki. Shortly after the shah's 
overthrow, the Dawa Party moved its 
headquarters to Tehran and escalated its 
guerrilla operations against Baathist rule in 
Iraq. In April 1980 alone, Iranian-backed 

terrorists assassinated twenty Iraqi officials 
and narrowly missed killing Iraq's deputy 
prime minister and close confidant of the 
Iraqi leader, Tariq Aziz. 2 In response, 
spurred privately by Saudi Arabia, which was 
deeply concerned that the Iranian Revolu- 
tion would stir up Shia passions in its own 
eastern provinces, Baghdad clamped down 
by arresting prominent religious leaders, ex- 
pelling thousands of Shia, and threatening to 
support an insurgency in the Arab populace 
of southern Iran. Tension grew along the 
border, and military skirmishes became 
common. In response to one Iranian infiltra- 
tion, on December 14, 1979, Iraqi troops 
moved five kilometers into Iran before with- 
drawing under the umbrella of a massive ar- 
tillery barrage that rained shells down all 
along Iran's southern border. By the summer 
of 1980 Iran and Iraq seemed poised for 
war. 3 

Saddam Hussein viewed the Iranian Re- 
volution as both an existential threat and an 
opportunity. To Saddam Hussein, Iran 
looked weak. The Iranian Revolution had 
consumed much of the officer corps of the 
shah's once vaunted army and unleashed 
long-standing tensions between the Persian 
majority and Iran's ethnic minorities, such 
as the Kurds in the north and the Baluchis in 
the south. The Iraqi leader wanted to abrog- 
ate the 1975 Algiers Accords with Iran; im- 
posed by the shah, it had established the bor- 
der between the two nations at the center of 
the Shatt al-Arab, giving Tehran control of 
half of Baghdad's only outlet to the Persian 
Gulf. Also, Saddam Hussein cast his eye on 
the Iranian province of Khuzestan, directly 
across the border near Basra. Under its 
sands were most of the Iranian oil reserves, 
and with a majority Arab population, Sad- 
dam Hussein calculated they would welcome 
his "liberation" of them from Persian control. 

The Iraqi records captured after the Americ- 
an invasion in 2003 are replete with such 
megalomaniac ideas. Saddam Hussein be- 
lieved that Egyptian president Anwar Sadat's 
peace treaty with Israel abrogated Egypt's 
leadership of the Arab people, and that this 
mantle now fell on Iraq's shoulders. He envi- 
sioned himself taking up the mantle as the 
new leader of the Arab people. Saddam Hus- 
sein saw himself as the new Saladin, believ- 
ing it was his destiny to unite the Arab 
people in a great crusade to retake Jerusalem 
with the ultimate goal of becoming the new 

In October 1979, one month before Iranian 
students stormed the U.S. embassy, CIA of- 
ficer George Cave flew back to Tehran carry- 
ing with him some highly sensitive intelli- 
gence that he hoped would impress the new 
Iranian government as to American sincer- 
ity. He met with the minister of foreign af- 
fairs, Ebrahim Yazdi, a pragmatic moderate 

whom Cave had known for a number of 

"The Iraqis are planning to invade Iran," 
Cave said simply. U.S. intelligence had 
strong evidence, including communications 
intercepts, and before leaving Washington 
Cave had seen satellite imagery of the Iraqi 
army rehearsing crossing the Shatt al-Arab. 
While he did not mention this visual evid- 
ence to Yazdi, he relayed the CIA's anticipa- 
tion of an Iraqi attack the following year. 

Cave told Yazdi about a CIA-operated sig- 
nals intelligence collection station located at 
Ham, near the Iraq border and parallel to 
Baghdad. Beginning in 1973 and using the 
code word Ibex, the agency built this base at 
the request of the shah; its sole purpose had 
been to eavesdrop on Iraq. Four specially 
configured Iranian C-130 airplanes collected 
Iraqi communications, downloading the in- 
tercepts to the ground station, where they 
would be translated and analyzed. "The 

general who ran it is still in Iran," Cave 
urged. "You need to reactivate it to find out 

what Iraq is up to." 4 

But with a wave of the hand, Yazdi dis- 
missed Cave's advice. He replied in Farsi, 
"They wouldn't dare!" Iran's dismissal of the 
CIA's warning could have proven fatal for the 
fledgling Islamic Republic— had their antag- 
onist not been Saddam Hussein. 

Uuring a news conference at the end of 

the first American war with Iraq, in 1991, the 
brusque, imposing General H. Norman Sch- 
warzkopf famously said of Saddam Hussein's 
military acumen: "He is neither a strategist 
nor is he schooled in the operational arts, 
nor is he a tactician, nor is he a general, nor 

is he a soldier. Other than that he's a great 
military man." Nothing reveals the truth of 
this statement more than Iraq's dysfunction- 
al attack on Iran. 

On September 22, 1980, Iraq tried to du- 
plicate the successful Israeli attack during 
the 1967 war by leading its ground invasion 
in its opening gambit with a massive air at- 
tack on Iran's airfields and destroying Iran's 
air force. But Iraq's effort proved a poor im- 
itation, and only three planes were destroyed 
on the ground. The Iranian pilots responded 
with surprising vigor. In a series of dogfights 
in the opening week of the war, their Americ- 
an training and equipment proved superior 
in the blue skies over southern Mesopot- 
amia. Had it not been for the shortage of 
spare parts and pilots that soon curtailed the 
number of Iranian sorties, the Iraqi invasion 
might have ended before it began. A delu- 
sional Saddam Hussein suspected that 

Israeli pilots had really been conducting 
these effective attacks. 

Nine Iraqi divisions lumbered across the 
border into central and southern Iran. It was 
an anti-blitzkrieg. Despite only sporadic Ira- 
nian resistance, the Iraqi army moved gla- 
cially. Frequently orders came from the high 
command in Baghdad straight down to divi- 
sion commanders, bypassing the intermedi- 
ary corps headquarters. Operating in the 
dark, with no planned military objectives, 
and not wishing to question Saddam Hus- 
sein's methods, senior Iraqi commanders did 
nothing. Units advanced a few kilometers 
and stopped; they dug in and awaited further 
orders from Baghdad. 

Saddam's timid attack permitted Iran to 
send reinforcements unhindered to the front 
and forced Iraq to fight in a wide-open, cov- 
erless wasteland. While it required weeks for 
the disorganized Iranian military to muster 
enough forces to blunt the Iraqi armor 

divisions, the halting pace of Baghdad's inva- 
sion gave Tehran the luxury of time. The 
Iraqis succeeded in capturing only one im- 
portant city in Khuzestan: the port city of 
Khorramshahr— now called Arabistan by 
Saddam Hussein— which fell after four weeks 
of house-to-house fighting at the cost of six 
thousand Iraqi casualties. 

Iran saw the hand of the United States be- 
hind Iraq's aggression. Just as Iranians be- 
lieved that the shah had been admitted into 
the United States to plot a countercoup 
rather than for humanitarian reasons, the 
prevailing view on the streets of Tehran was 
that Iraq would not have attacked without 
the permission of the American superpower. 
The two nations had colluded to overturn the 
revolution. Iranian leaders believed their 
suspicions were confirmed when news 
leaked that the last prime minister under the 
shah, Shapour Bakhtiar, had joined the 
Iraqis and entered the occupied part of Iran. 

"It was believed that Bakhtiar would seek to 
establish a separate government in the re- 
gion, which would be recognized by the Un- 
ited States and others, igniting a civil war in- 
side Iran." 5 

While the United States frequently re- 
ceives the credit or the blame for much of 
what transpires in the Middle East, Wash- 
ington's hidden hand was not behind the 
Iraqi attack. "The U.S. government was 
taken by surprise when the attack occurred 
in the magnitude that it did," said Gary Sick, 
who worked the Persian Gulf desk for Brzez- 

inski at the White House.- Carter steadfastly 
refused Brzezinski's urgings to consider 
more serious military options to pressure 

Khomeini to release the hostages. 2 The last 
thing the White House wanted was a massive 
regional war and another crisis in the Middle 
East instigated by the paranoid megalomani- 
ac ruler in Baghdad. 

Ayatollah Khomeini also saw an opportun- 
ity in the onset of war. Steven Ward, a senior 
Iranian analyst at the CIA, observed that 
Iraq's invasion of Iran proved to be a "god- 
send" to the new Islamic Republic. "The 
Iraqi aggression ensured the clerical regime's 
survival by reviving the public's nationalism 
and diverting attention from the country's 

slide into tyranny." 2 Ayatollah Khomeini fre- 
quently said this too, boasting that the Iraqi 
threat afforded the Islamic Republic the 
chance to rally the public behind the regime 
and the excuse needed to purge domestic op- 
ponents, such as the powerful communist 
Tudeh Party. Just as the takeover of the 
American embassy allowed Khomeini to 
purge the liberal opposition from the govern- 
ment, Saddam Hussein's overt aggression 
provided a similar excuse to expunge the 
communists and consolidate power around 
the mullahs. While it plunged Iran into a vir- 
tual civil war, by 1983 Khomeini had 

succeeded in breaking the Tudeh Party, with 
the death toll tallying into the thousands. 

he Iranian army struggled to roll back 

the Iraqi assault. Perhaps half the entire Ira- 
nian military had deserted or been purged 
since the revolution, including many of the 
skilled officers. In January 1981 clerical lead- 
ers, who knew much more about the Koran 
than about Clausewitz, goaded a reluctant 
army into conducting its first major counter- 
attack. Iran committed most of its armor re- 
serve—some three hundred tanks— in a 
massive attack during the winter rainy sea- 
son. The Iranian tanks became bogged down 
in the muck and mire and tried to slug it out 
at close range against dug-in Iraqi T-62 
tanks. Despite generally outfighting their 
Iraqi opponents, nearly two-thirds of Iran's 
irreplaceable tanks were left as smoking 

hulks in front of Iraqi trenches.— The failure 

of the attack by the armored forces left the 
professional soldiers discredited. So the 
same amateurs who'd ordered the army's 
failed attack turned to their own newly cre- 
ated organization, the Revolutionary Guard. 

IVlohsen Sazegara had been an early 
supporter of Ayatollah Khomeini. Short with 
bright blue eyes that expressed a keen intel- 
lect, Mohsen attended school in Tehran and 
the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chica- 
go. He was studying to be an electrical engin- 
eer when he decided to travel to Iraq to work 
for the ayatollah in his bid to overthrow the 
shah. Although he was Shiite, the draw of 
Khomeini had been less religious and more 
youthful idealism. Like many other well-edu- 
cated Iranian students, Sazegara had been 
swept up in the Persian equivalent of the stu- 
dent rebellions that had gripped Western 
campuses during the 1960s. "It was a blend 

of newfound religious identity and Marx- 
ism," he noted. 

Sazegara proved to be a good analyst and 
accompanied Khomeini to Paris, where he 
helped translate Western stories and co- 
ordinate the sophisticated public relations 
campaign in the Western media that demon- 
ized the shah and moderated Khomeini's im- 
age. When Khomeini returned triumphantly 
to Tehran, Sazegara accompanied him, des- 
cending from the jet just ahead of the 

Security became a major preoccupation in 
the early months of the new Islamic Repub- 
lic. The new government felt under siege. 
Weapons looted from the military armories 
during the chaotic death throes of the shah's 
rule were everywhere and had found their 
way into the hands of communists and Kurd- 
ish separatists, the latter using the newly ac- 
quired hardware to increase attacks against 
the weakened central government in Tehran. 

The loyalty of the military remained ques- 
tionable. Sunni rebels in Turkmenistan along 
the border with the Soviet Union had ap- 
proached Moscow about supporting an inde- 
pendence movement and were given its 
promise of aid if they showed the military ca- 
pacity to hold a sizable area. The new regime 
obsessed about an American-led coup to re- 
install the shah, even an invasion by the Un- 
ited States, perhaps using a trumped-up bor- 
der conflict with Turkey as an excuse for a 
NATO attack. "Everyone believed that the 
United States wanted to overthrow the re- 
volution and reinstall the shah," said 
Sazegara. "It was a universal truth as far as 

we were concerned."— 

Sazegara and others began working on the 
idea of a people's army to defend the revolu- 
tion. Stealing a page from the Marxist play- 
book, they wanted to build a military organ- 
ization filled by volunteers from the masses 
to combat their plethora of foreign and 

domestic enemies. Sazegara wrote the first 
draft charter for the people's army, an ideal- 
istic organization that had no officers and 
whose directives stemmed from popular con- 
sensus, under the supervision of a five-mem- 
ber board chaired by an ayatollah reporting 
to Khomeini. On April 4, 1979, a group of 
students, including Sazegara, met with 
Ayatollah Khomeini at his home in Qom to 
brief him on the proposed military organiza- 
tion. Khomeini did not look at them, but sat 
quietly with his hands folded, listening in- 
tently. When they finished, Khomeini looked 
up and flashed a very rare smile. "Yes. This is 
a very good idea. I have worried about an 
American coup." 

Sazegara soon discovered that two other 
similar Revolutionary Guard units had 
sprung up. One was headed by the son of the 
powerful liberal-leaning Ayatollah Hussein 
Ali Montazeri and was located in an old mil- 
itary barracks. The other group was in the 

west of Tehran, formed by former political 
prisoners, a major in the shah's Immortals 
guard, and several members of the shah's 
household who had secretly spied for 
Khomeini. After several meetings, both of 
these fledgling military groups merged with 
Sazegara's group. 

In May 1979 the people's army became a 
reality. Officially it became known as the 
Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Re- 
volution, or Sepah-e Pasdaran in Farsi. In 
English it has been simply labeled the Re- 
volutionary Guard. The guard established its 
headquarters in a brand-new building in 
Tehran, which had been recently built to al- 
low the shah's secret police, Savak, to monit- 
or domestic phone conversations. The build- 
ing was empty and its only damage during 
the revolution had been some broken 

With furniture and telephones installed, 
Sazegara invited Mostafa Chamran over to 

the new headquarters to brief him on the 
new group. A brilliant professor of engineer- 
ing, Chamran had taught at Berkeley and 
worked at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laborat- 
ory. He was widely respected in Iranian aca- 
demic circles as the only student at the 
University of Tehran to get a 100 percent on 
his thermodynamics test under Mehdi Baz- 
argan, the school's toughest instructor who 
would also become the first prime minister 
of the revolutionary government. But in the 
1970s, Chamran had found religion. He'd 
turned his back on science, grew his beard, 
and replaced his slide rule with a Kalash- 
nikov. He traveled to Lebanon— then in the 
midst of its sectarian civil war— where he es- 
tablished the military wing of the main Shia 
militia. Sazegara believed Chamran was a lo- 
gical choice to lead this new people's army. 

"That's fantastic!" Chamran replied when 
he saw what was being conceived. "But you 
need military-trained leadership." As the 

idea of an officerless corps quickly fell away 
as unworkable, Chamran brought a small 
group of Iranians back from Lebanon to be- 
gin training the first cadre of two hundred 
officers, all of whom were chosen for their 
ideological commitment to Khomeini. These 
combatants were joined by others with milit- 
ary experience, including the future head of 
the Revolutionary Guard, Mohsen Rezai, 
who had fought with the MEK before falling 
out over its emphasis of Marx over 

Muhammad.— In a strange twist, a number 
of former intelligence officers from the 
shah's military offered their tradecraft to aid 
the Revolutionary Guard in rooting out state 
enemies. Reporting only to Khomeini, the 
guard quickly grew into the thousands. 

Over the next year both Chamran and 
Sazegara moved on to other jobs in the new 
government, but the organization they'd 
helped create continued to evolve. As the de- 
fense minister, Chamran streamlined 

command of the guard and ensured clerical 
supervision at every level of command. The 
Revolutionary Guard cut its teeth fighting 
the various separatist movements and as a 
gendarmerie for internal security. It became 
the key tool for consolidating power in the 
hands of the Islamic Republic, with many of 
the country's future leaders emerging from 
its ranks. 

The Iraqi war forced a transformation in 
the Revolutionary Guard. Rather than coun- 
terinsurgency, the Revolutionary Guard 
found itself embroiled in a major conven- 
tional war. Drawing recruits from the large, 
poor Shia population through the strong ap- 
peal of religious fervor, not to mention better 
pay and benefits, their ranks swelled to more 
than a quarter million frontline soldiers. Dis- 
dain for the regular Iranian army prevented 
any merger, and the Revolutionary Guard 
emerged as a separate, parallel army that 
soon surpassed the army if not in numbers, 

then certainly in clout. It was backed by the 
popular pro-Khomeini militia force called 
the Basij, Farsi for "mobilization." More than 
six hundred thousand strong, Basij provided 
a steady stream of replacements for the Re- 
volutionary Guard. 

In April 1981 the Revolutionary Guard 
spearheaded an attack using human wave as- 
saults led by young, often unarmed Basij 
men who unwittingly cleared the Iraqi mine- 
fields with their own bodies. Despite horrific 
losses, these untrained conscripts of the Re- 
volutionary Guard overran the Iraqi defend- 
ers, capturing frontline trenches before their 
attack stalled due to shortages in supply and 
mechanized forces to exploit the break- 
through. Chamran himself died a martyr's 
death in these early attacks, killed by an Iraqi 
mortar round while leading a group of Basij 

The Iranians touted this victory as a new 
way of Islamic warfare. Revolutionary zeal 

supplanted traditional military competency 
as the key to victory. Faith in God and a com- 
mitment to spread the revolution would 
overcome Western weapons, tactics, and 
training. The human cost was immaterial, 
even encouraged in a society that prized 
martyrdom. The sprawling Behesht-e Zahra 
cemetery in southwest Tehran soon filled 
with graves— adorned with photos and per- 
sonal mementos— of thousands of young 

But these human wave assaults proved ef- 
fective. One Iraqi officer who witnessed them 
has never forgotten the image of nearly a 
dozen Revolutionary Guardsmen riding atop 
a tank firing rocket-propelled grenades as 
they headed toward his position. Even after 
their tank had been knocked out, the surviv- 
ors, some on fire, jumped off and continued 
to run toward the Iraqi troops until they 
were finally cut down in a hail of machine- 
gun fire at the foot of the Iraqi trench. "It 

unnerved our troops and many ran," he dryly 
commented, before adding that he wished he 
had such dedicated soldiers. Over time, the 
Revolutionary Guard operations became 
more sophisticated as military necessity 
forced amateurism to give way to a modicum 
of professionalism. The Revolutionary Guard 
grew adept at probing the Iraqi lines, finding 
weakly defended positions and gaps between 
Iraqi units. Then, under the cover of dark- 
ness, massed Basij and Revolutionary Guard 
forces infiltrated behind the Iraqi lines, re- 
peatedly opening gaping holes in the Iraqi 

With Ayatollah Khomeini's approval, the 
army began promoting officers favored by 
the Revolutionary Guard. As these like- 
minded men assumed leadership positions 
in the army, it fostered a better working rela- 
tionship between the two separate forces. 
Now army tanks and infantry backed by ar- 
tillery began exploiting the guard's nocturnal 

infiltration operations. While Iran struggled 
to sustain its offensives— each attack re- 
quired weeks of amassing ammunition and 
supplies— over months it chipped away at 
Saddam's army, slowly driving them out of 
Iran and, by the summer of 1982, back into 
the outskirts of Iraq's second-largest city, 

A divided Iranian leadership debated its 
next steps in the war. No one advocated ac- 
cepting the cease-fire suddenly offered by 
Saddam Hussein. Ayatollah Khomeini's son 
Ahmed Khomeini, as well as the chief of staff 
of the army, pressed for an aggressive offens- 
ive to take Basra, overthrow Saddam Hus- 
sein, and establish an Islamic state within 
Iraq. But president and future supreme lead- 
er Seyed Ali Khamenei, foreign minister Ali 
Akbar Velayati, and the pragmatic speaker of 
the parliament and head of the armed forces, 
Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, were less 
sanguine about invading Iraq proper. They 

argued for seeking punitive reparations and 
ending Saddam Hussein's ability to threaten 
the revolution. The chief of the general staff, 
General Zahir Nejad, opposed the invasion 
because he feared that the international 
community would see Iran as the antagonist 
and not the victim of aggression. Ayatollah 
Khomeini lay somewhere in between the two 
views. He deeply wanted to overthrow the 
Baathist regime and spread the Islamic Re- 
volution, but he shared General Nejad's con- 
cerns about Iran being perceived as the ag- 
gressor. The supreme leader preferred to 
achieve Saddam Hussein's ouster without an 
invasion of Iraq. 

The debate came to a head in a pivotal 
meeting of the powerful Supreme Defense 
Council, Iran's equivalent of the National Se- 
curity Council, in June 1982. Both Velayati 
and Khamenei remained opposed to invad- 
ing Iraq, but Rafsanjani had come around to 
support the idea, and he and other hawks 

argued that Basra could be taken. That 
spring, Iranian intelligence agents had 
fanned out throughout southern Iraq and 
Kuwait; they reported back that the Shia 
population was receptive to Iran's revolu- 
tionary message and ripe for revolt. This 
would cause a chain reaction and lead to the 
overthrow of Saddam Hussein, and perhaps 
even of the pro-Western emir in Kuwait. The 
final decision fell to Ayatollah Khomeini. 
Despite his own personal reservations, he 
sided with the hawks and agreed to a robust 
attack to take Basra and end the Baath re- 
gime. Once the supreme leader had made his 
decision, he never looked back. In the com- 
ing years he consistently called for a war un- 
til victory. It would take another six years of 
slaughter before he changed his mind. 

On June 21, Ayatollah Khomeini publicly 
proclaimed that the "road to Jerusalem ran 
through Karbala." He enunciated a grandiose 
vision of a Shia crescent stretching across the 

Middle East. The divided Supreme Defense 
Council rallied behind the decision. With re- 
volutionary fervor and a sense of divine vic- 
tory awaiting its army, Iran pressed forward 
into Iraq, intent on capturing Basra, bringing 
down the Baath regime, and installing a pro- 
Iranian Shia Islamic government. "War! War 
until victory!" became the chant in the 
streets of Tehran. 13 

With Iran poised for a major attack on 

Basra, alarm bells sounded in the White 
House. "It appears Iran will invade Iraq in 
the next few days," National Security Adviser 
William Clark wrote to President Reagan. 
"Given the past performance of the Iraqi 
army," Clark added, "it seems likely that Iran 
eventually will succeed in accomplishing its 
military objectives." This, Clark warned the 
president, could succeed in bringing down 
Saddam Hussein, posing a direct threat to 

Kuwait and Saudi Arabia and grave danger 
to American interests in the region. "Our 
principal objective," Clark wrote, "is to bring 
an end to the war before Iran can assume he- 
gemony in the region." 

At five p.m. on July 12, 1982, Clark con- 
vened a meeting of President Ronald 
Reagan's senior foreign policy team in the 
White House Situation Room. The mood was 
somber as the men seated themselves 
around the wooden table in the small, win- 
dowless conference room. The first briefing, 
by an intelligence officer, did little to im- 
prove the mood. The Defense Intelligence 
Agency officer expected the Iranians to at- 
tack Basra within the next twenty-four to 
forty-eight hours, and while the fighting 
would be heavy, the agency predicted the 
Iranians would take the city. The chairman 
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Vessey, 
cringed when the analyst described the in- 
competent disposition of the Iraqi army. 

Rather than using natural barriers, such as 
defending behind rivers, the Iraqi units sat 
in front of them, with the nearest armor re- 
serves capable of blunting the Iranian at- 
tacks more than four days away from the 
critical front at Basra. 

From the outset the Reagan administra- 
tion took a pro-Iraqi stance. The United 
States and Iraq had severed diplomatic rela- 
tions after the 1967 Arab-Israeli War and 
had had a testy relationship for the interced- 
ing fifteen years. Now, however, the two 
countries shared contempt for the new 
Islamic Republic of Iran, and Washington 
saw the war as an opportunity to wean Iraq 
from its chief arms supplier, the Soviet 
Union. "Closer ties with Iraq would benefit 
the U.S. and could shift Iraq into opposition 
against Iran and Syria," Assistant Secretary 
of Defense Bing West wrote to Secretary Cas- 
par Weinberger in a memo laying out the 

pros and cons of closer military ties to Iraq. 14 

In spring and summer of 1981, a string of 
senior American diplomats arrived in Iraq 
for meetings with a close confidant of Sad- 
dam Hussein, a powerful Christian Baath 

Party insider named Tariq Aziz. 15 Over occa- 
sional glasses of whiskey from Aziz's well- 
apportioned walk-in liquor cellar, the two 
nations gradually moved toward normaliza- 
tion of diplomatic relations. 

But the chief catalyst for America's tilt to- 
ward Iraq was the drubbing of the Iraqi army 
at the hands of Iran's Revolutionary Guard. 
The crisis in the marsh and sand around 
Basra galvanized the White House that hot 
Washington July. A crisis mood prevailed as 
the United States awoke to Iran as the main 
threat to American hegemony over the Per- 
sian Gulf. An air force lieutenant colonel tak- 
ing notes summed up the opinions after one 
meeting: "Although there is limited room for 
maneuver in our policy, it is definitely in U.S. 
interests to keep the Iraqi government from 

becoming pro-Iranian."— The United States 
needed to protect moderate Arab states from 
Iranian aggression and to safeguard Middle 
East oil. But the challenge, as Washington 
viewed it, was to support the Iraqis without 
alienating Iran and pushing it into the Soviet 

Nevertheless, that summer a consensus 
emerged among Reagan's frequently frac- 
tious inner circle to support Iraq. With 
Jordan and Saudi Arabia lobbying for Bagh- 
dad, the United States threw its support be- 
hind Saddam Hussein. 12 Reagan concurred. 
He signed a top secret security directive in- 
structing the government to take all meas- 
ures short of direct military aid to prevent 
Iraq from losing to Iran. 

Not everyone within the bowels of the U.S. 
foreign policy establishment agreed with the 
tilt toward Iraq. William Taft in the Defense 
Department disagreed with the cooperative 

arrangement, believing that Iraq was little 
better than Iran. The State Department's dir- 
ectorate for Near Eastern affairs, including 
its director for regional affairs, Philip Wilcox, 
and his boss, Deputy Assistant Secretary of 
State James Placke, both were uneasy about 
siding with Iraq as it might close the door on 
any chance for normalization with Iran. 19 
They were joined by a concoction of Cold 
War hawks, such as Paul Wolfowitz at the 
State Department and Richard Perle at the 
Defense Department, who opposed support- 
ing Iraq because they believed that Saddam 
Hussein posed a greater danger. Perle ex- 
pressed particular concern about transfer- 
ring American computer technology to Iraq, 
fearing it could wind up in the hands of the 
Soviet Union. 

The senior leadership at the White House, 
the Pentagon, and the State Department, 
however, tended to see Iraq as the lesser of 
two evils. Saddam Hussein could provide 

stability in the region and serve as a bulwark 
against Iran. Iraq was more independent and 
perhaps could be wooed away from Moscow. 
The legacy of the Iranian hostage crisis res- 
onated within the debate. Secretary of De- 
fense Caspar Weinberger despised the Irani- 
an regime and never forgave it for taking 
over the U.S. embassy. He favored most any 
plan that would make trouble for the Islamic 

Republic of Iran. 22 "There was no great love 
for Saddam Hussein," said Richard Armit- 
age. "Neither side was a good guy. It's a pity 
the war could not have lasted forever."— 

The debate was not settled overnight. 
However, over the course of the next two 
years, as the war dragged on and Iraqi for- 
tunes on the battlefield ebbed more than 
flowed, President Reagan consistently sided 
with those supporting closer relations with 
Saddam Hussein. Despite Washington's dis- 
comfort with Iraq's human rights abuses and 
liberal use of chemical weapons, the United 

States gradually moved to a position that a 
senior State Department official labeled a 
"fig leaf of neutrality" in the Iran-Iraq War. 

After the July 12 White House meeting, 
the United States moved to reassure its Gulf 
allies. The Gulf Arabs had good reason to 
worry about the wrath of Iran, and many 
privately supported the Iraqi invasion. In the 
brief pan-Sunni euphoria that followed the 
Iraqi attack, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the 
United Arab Emirates allowed nearly one 
hundred Iraqi aircraft to stage at their air 
bases for a planned massive strike on Bandar 

Abbas. 22 Alarmed, Washington pressured 
them to seek withdrawal of the Iraqi planes 
and to avert starting a much wider, much 
more dangerous Middle East war. Saudi Ara- 
bia, however, secretly allowed Iraqi aircraft 
to "hot-pit" refuel at its bases as they re- 
turned from attacking Iranian oil tankers 
near the Strait of Hormuz. 

The United States tried to reassure a skit- 
tish Saudi government. Reagan sent a per- 
sonal letter to King Fahd of Saudi Arabia ex- 
pressing America's concerns about an Irani- 
an victory, offering "our readiness to cooper- 
ate in the defense of the kingdom." Under 
the innocuous name of European Liaison 
Force One (ELF-One), the United States dis- 
patched to Riyadh four E-3 AWACS (air- 
borne warning and control system) aircraft 
accompanied by air-to-air refueling 

tankers. 23 This modified Boeing 707 aircraft 
mounted a large saucer-shaped radar dome 
capable of detecting Iranian aircraft more 
than four hundred nautical miles away. They 
served as the linchpin in an elaborate 
American-designed Saudi air defense system 
arrayed against Iran. The Saudis kept aloft 
American-built F-15 fighters ready to inter- 
cept any Iranian jet detected by the AWACS. 
American technicians manned a communica- 
tions network throughout the kingdom that 

linked the American AWACS to the Royal 
Saudi Air Force. An operations center 
manned by the U.S. Air Force at the King Ab- 
dul Aziz Air Base near Dhahran comprised 
radar and communications equipment that 
received the AWACS data. 24 

The Saudi government worried about the 
fallout within the Muslim world should it be 
openly revealed that the keeper of the two 
holiest sites in Islam allowed a de facto per- 
manent American military presence within 
the kingdom. So the Americans tried to keep 
a low profile. Once a week a U.S. Air Force 
C-141 cargo jet arrived, off-loading supplies 
and new airmen dressed in civilian clothes 
and traveling on temporary duty orders ran- 
ging from 21 to 179 days. They were quietly 
billeted in local hotels. The bulk of Americ- 
ans in Riyadh stayed at the al-Yamamah 
Hotel, an unremarkable but well-appointed 
building most notable for a seventy-pound 
marble ball in the large center lobby. Each 

day, Saudi buses transported the Americans 
from their comfortable barracks to the 

nearby Saudi air base. 25 This routine re- 
mained unchanged for the next six years as 
thousands of American airmen quietly ro- 
tated through Saudi Arabia, all under the 
public radar and all without any formal 
agreement between the two nations. 

Washington extended commodities credit 
guarantees to purchase American agricultur- 
al products to prop up Baghdad's economy.— 
A windfall for American farmers, this totaled 
$345 million in exports in 1983, increasing 

to $652 million a couple of years later. 22 This 
also freed up hundreds of millions of dollars 
for the Iraqis to use to purchase military 
hardware. Vice President George Bush inter- 
vened with a Yale classmate, William Draper, 
who headed the federal government's 
Export-Import Bank, which extends credit to 
purchase American goods, to overrule his 
own staff and extend to Baghdad nearly 

$500 million to finance a new Iraqi oil 
pipeline to Jordan to be built by the U.S. 
company Bechtel. As Bush wrote to his 
friend Draper, "Eximbank could play a critic- 
al role in our efforts in the region."— 

In December 1983 Reagan dispatched 
Donald Rumsfeld to Baghdad. The president 
had appointed the former defense secretary 
and Republican stalwart as his special 
Middle East envoy with a portfolio that in- 
cluded dealing with the myriad problems 
confronting the United States, from Middle 
East peace to Iraq's war with Iran. A tena- 
cious bureaucratic infighter, Rumsfeld was 
both smart and complex; he could be both 
charming and acerbic. After several months 
of diplomatic groundwork, Rumsfeld arrived 
in Baghdad on December 19, 1983, carrying 
an amicable letter from President Reagan for 
Saddam Hussein. He had an impromptu 
meeting with Tariq Aziz in which over the 
course of two and a half hours they discussed 

all the fault lines of the region. Aziz, fluent in 
English, could be equally as glib as Rums- 
feld, and the two men largely agreed on a 
shared view between the two nations, espe- 
cially in curbing Iran's power. 

"The U.S. has no interest in an Iranian vic- 
tory," Rumsfeld told Aziz. "To the contrary. 
We would not want Iran's influence expan- 
ded at the expense of Iraq." As Rumsfeld 
wrote afterward, "I thought we had areas of 
common interest, particularly the security 
and stability in the Gulf which had been 
jeopardized as a result of the Iranian revolu- 
tion." 29 

The next day Rumsfeld met with Saddam 
Hussein for ninety minutes. It was the 
highest-level meeting between the two states 
in nearly twenty years. Saddam showed up in 
an army uniform, wearing the epaulets of a 
field marshal and a pistol on his hip. Iraqi 
television captured the two men's prolonged 
handshake, much to Donald Rumsfeld's later 

chagrin when it became a much ballyhooed 
video on the Internet following the U.S. over- 
throw of the same Iraqi leader when Rums- 
feld was secretary of defense in 2003. Sad- 
dam was pleased with the warm tone of 
Reagan's letter, telling Rumsfeld that it in- 
dicated a deep and serious understanding of 
the implications and dangers of the war and 
of an Iranian victory. "Having a whole gener- 
ation of Iraqis and Americans grow up 
without understanding each other had negat- 
ive implications and could lead to mix-ups," 
Hussein stated. Rumsfeld agreed, saying that 
despite differences between the United 
States and Iraq, the two countries shared a 
common view, especially regarding stability 
in the Persian Gulf and curbing Iran. Rums- 
feld expressed qualified American support to 
prevent Iraq's defeat and pledged to try to 
curb the arms flow to Iran that perpetuated 
its military offensives. While the meeting 
between Rumsfeld and Hussein ended 

without any grand bargain, it reaffirmed 
American support for Iraq's war against Iran 
and set the two nations on the path to full 
diplomatic relations, which formally oc- 
curred with the exchange of ambassadors in 
November 1984. 32 

f the Foreign Service can produce 

muddy-boots diplomats, Robert Oakley, the 
lean, drawn former naval intelligence officer, 
was certainly one of that rare breed. By 1984 
Oakley had already had nearly thirty years of 
foreign policy experience, having served a 
tour on the NSC and ambassadorial postings 
to Zaire and Somalia, and he had seen his 
share of war, including Vietnam. Like most 
of his colleagues, Oakley viewed Iran as the 
major menace to American interests. While 
far from enamored with Saddam Hussein, 
Oakley believed an Iranian victory would 

spell catastrophe for the United States and 
its Arab allies. 

Oakley headed an NSC-led interagency 
group to coordinate support for Iraq. Meet- 
ing in the Old Executive Office Building next 
to the White House's West Wing, represent- 
atives from State, Defense, CIA, and the 
Treasury Department examined the latest in- 
telligence on the battlefront and looked for 
ways to provide the best assistance to the 
Iraqi military and to solicit support from 
other countries for Iraq. 

While the United States refused to provide 
direct military support, Washington strongly 
encouraged other countries to do so. 
Oakley's team looked at the military require- 
ments of Saddam Hussein and tried to match 
up donor countries to meet those needs. In 
one case, South Korea provided 155-mm ar- 
tillery shells for long-range artillery pieces 
provided by South Africa. The U.S. govern- 
ment discreetly approached both the French 

and the Italians to sell more equipment to 
Iraq. President Reagan personally supported 
the initiative, lobbying the Italian prime 
minister to supply Iraq with arms during an 
Oval Office meeting. Both countries obliged. 
For Paris, it was a lucrative business, with 40 
percent of all its arms sales going to Iraq 
during the first half of the 1980s. This in- 
cluded a massive contract for 130 combat 

aircraft. 31 The French sold the Iraqis five ad- 
vanced Super Etendards to carry the Exocet 
antiship missile. This provided Iraq the 
means to effectively hit Iranian oil tankers 
throughout the Gulf. The aircraft arrived 
with a team of French advisers who instruc- 
ted the Iraqis on everything from mainten- 
ance to tactics against Iran. 

Oakley's group elicited commitments from 
both the Egyptian and the Jordanian govern- 
ments to provide even more assistance; both 

countries sent military advisers to Iraq. 32 
Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak sent 

thousands of "volunteers" to the country, 
who joined a brigade from North Yemen 
fighting in the trenches alongside the Iraqis. 
Jordan agreed to serve as an intermediary 
for American-made radars capable of detect- 
ing incoming Iranian missiles. Washington 
provided the radars to Jordan, which then 
sent them on to Baghdad. The United States 
and Egypt reached a secret agreement 
whereby Cairo would sell off its older, 
surplus Soviet-built equipment and, in re- 
turn, Washington would backfill Mubarak's 
military with more advanced, American- 
made weapons. Over the course of the war, 
Egypt sold over a billion dollars' worth of 

military equipment to Iraq. 33 

Oakley took a liberal view of providing 
nonmilitary assistance to Iraq. The United 
States sold communications equipment, 
sixty Hughes helicopters (the same make as 
those used by U.S. Army Special Forces), as 
well as two thousand heavy trucks 

themselves worth $234 million. Iraq im- 
pressed all of this materiel into its army. To 
help justify the truck sale, the State Depart- 
ment used twisted logic, stating that, as Iraq 
was on the defense in the war, it "is now un- 
likely to use the trucks to contribute signific- 
antly to the destabilization of the region." 34 

To complement the arms for Iraq, the Un- 
ited States worked to cut off a similar flow to 
Iran. To feed its military needs, Iran pur- 
chased $2 billion worth of weapons, muni- 
tions, and spare parts every year. It was a 
lucrative trade; any country who could fulfill 
that need stood to make huge profits. Overt 
and illicit weapons flowed into Iran from all 
over the globe in an underground arms 
trade. Iranian agents met in Frankfurt and 
Lisbon with shady arms dealers intent on 
profiting by providing American spare parts 
to Tehran. Israel and countries in Europe 
and Asia all clandestinely sold compatible 
apparatus for Iran's American-made 

hardware. Between 1983 and 1985, Spain 
alone sold $280 million worth of spare artil- 
lery tubes, ammunition, and small arms. In 
the same period, 28 percent of Portugal's en- 
tire arms exports went to Iran, including the 
illegal transfer of as many as four thousand 
U.S. -made TOW missiles. Belgium and other 
NATO allies refurbished Iranian F-4 aircraft 

engines. 35 

In order to curtail weapons flowing to 
Iran, in the spring of 1983 the United States 
initiated Operation Staunch, spearheaded by 
Richard Fairbanks. Having succeeded in tak- 
ing Iraq off the terrorism watch list, the State 
Department now declared Iran to be a state 
supporter of terrorism. This permitted the 
U.S. government to impose export sanctions 
against Iran, which prohibited the export of 
any American-made weapons to Tehran. 
Fairbanks knew it would be impossible to 
halt all arms sales to Iran, but he concen- 
trated on stopping the sale of sophisticated 

equipment, such as radars and aircraft 

parts. 3 ^ He issued two or three demarches 
every month to European and Asian nations 
to pressure them to halt these exports. Am- 
bassadors in Europe and Asia were instruc- 
ted to "preach" the virtues of Operation 
Staunch: the dangers of providing arma- 
ments to Iran that perpetuated the war. 

The U.S. military supported Fairbanks's 
diplomatic campaign too. Senior officers at 
CENTCOM traveled across the Middle East 
with instructions to convince their counter- 
parts to agree with the arms embargo and to 
forge a united effort to curtail selling any 
equipment that could aid the Iranian milit- 
ary. 32 

Ihe United States obtained South 
Korea's consent to refrain from selling air- 
craft parts and intervened with Italy to halt 

the transfer of Boeing Chinook helicopters. 
Great Britain agreed to clamp down on its 
companies selling equipment that had milit- 
ary applications. This constant anti-Iranian 
drumbeat by U.S. diplomats eventually 
forged widespread consensus in both Europe 
and the Middle East as to the culpability of 
Iran in perpetuating the Gulf conflict. 
Tehran found itself increasingly isolated and 
on the diplomatic defense for its unwilling- 
ness to accept a cease-fire. In late 1981 
Reagan signed a secret finding that allowed 
the Central Intelligence Agency to pass Iraq 
intelligence by way of third countries. CIA 
officers began giving their Jordanian coun- 
terparts at the General Intelligence 
Department low-level intelligence on Iranian 
troop dispositions intending for it to be 
passed on to Iraq. Saddam Hussein took in- 
terest in this information ostensibly coming 
from Jordan. He reviewed it personally be- 
fore giving it to his own military intelligence 

personnel. Whether Hussein knew the in- 
formation had come directly from the United 
States is not clear, but a senior Iraqi army in- 
telligence general, Wafiq al-Samarrai, later 
explained, "I was sure Jordan was not cap- 
able of getting such information. "^ Saudi 
Arabia provided another venue for the CIA to 
pass nonattributable information to Saddam 
Hussein. Like Jordan, the CIA had a long- 
standing relationship with the Saudi General 
Intelligence Directorate, al-Mukhabarat Al- 
Aamah. Saudi Arabia was only too willing to 
pass on similar information, sharing a view 
of Iran similar to that of its Sunni allies in 

With the Iranian victories in 1982, Reagan 
authorized the CIA to increase its intelli- 
gence support for Iraq. In June 1982 a three- 
man team, headed by a fifty-year-old Amer- 
ican who introduced himself as "Thomson," 
arrived in Baghdad for several days of 
lengthy meetings with the head of Iraqi 

military intelligence and the Iraqi intelli- 
gence service, known as the Mukhabarat. 
"We are here to help you and are willing to 
provide you with more information which 
will help you in your war against Iran," said 
Thomson in his opening remarks with the 

The two sides exchanged views on the Ira- 
nian military, and both sides agreed on the 
need for better intelligence to counter the 
Iranian attacks around Basra. Thomson said 
that the CIA was willing to provide regular 
information on Iranian troop movements in 
order to prevent further Iranian advances. At 
the close of the conference, Thomson gave 
the Iraqis detailed drawings based on Amer- 
ican overhead images of Iranian military 
troop locations arrayed east of Basra in 
southwestern Iran. At the end, Saddam Hus- 
sein thanked the Americans and gave his ap- 
proval for the expanded intelligence 

As the United States had no embassy in or 
formal diplomatic relations with Iraq until 
1984, both sides agreed to establish an unof- 
ficial station in Baghdad headed by a senior 
CIA officer who would serve as a liaison 

between the two countries. 39 To support this, 
the CIA established a small Iraqi intelligence 
cell within the Near East Division of the op- 
erations directorate, which comprised a mix- 
ture of veterans and brand-new officers, 
many of whom went on to form the next gen- 
eration of American Middle East spies. Here 
they compiled satellite images of the battle- 
front and intercepts of Iranian communica- 
tions and distilled these into sanitized docu- 
ments that would neither compromise the 
sources nor divulge capabilities. Langley 
passed on to the Iraqis this distilled informa- 
tion in documents outlining Iranian unit loc- 
ations and depots and summaries of where 
American intelligence believed Iran intended 
to attack next. The CIA passed on selected 

information regarding the capabilities of the 
U.S. -manufactured equipment operated by 
Tehran, especially on the F-14 and F-4 air- 
craft that made up the heart of the Iranian 
air force. 

Clair George, who headed the agency's 
clandestine arm, closely supervised the intel- 
ligence sharing. To this consummate profes- 
sional spy, the true importance of maintain- 
ing these intelligence exchanges with Iraq 
was to recruit new Iraqi agents from among 
the senior ranks of its military and intelli- 
gence services. Except when Basra appeared 
threatened, George ordered a steady dribble 
of relatively insignificant information passed 
on to Baghdad— enough to keep his intelli- 
gence officers talking and coercing Iraqi of- 
ficers, but not enough to really impact the 
fighting. "The CIA gave them chickenfeed," 
observed the head of the DIA's Middle East 
operations, Walter Patrick Lang. 42 

In general, however, the CIA remained 
lukewarm about the policy tilt toward Iraq. 
"It was a horrible mistake," said Kenneth 
Pollack, an influential Middle East expert 
who was a rising star within the CIA's analyt- 
ical directorate in the 1980s. "My fellow ana- 
lysts and I were warning at the time that 
Hussein was a very nasty character." 41 Pol- 
lack was not alone in rejecting the view that 
Hussein was the lesser of two evils. 

Despite Saddam Hussein's outward pleas- 
ure with the CIA information, the Iraqis were 
very suspicious about the intelligence passed 
by the Americans. "They thought maybe we 
were trying to mislead them in some way," 
said the CIA's George Cave. However, the 
Iraqis became converts in February 1984. 
Having spent two years conducting futile hu- 
man frontal assaults on the Iraqi defenses 
around Basra, Iran secretly amassed more 
than a quarter of a million men for a surprise 
attack north of the city in the seemingly 

impregnable seven-hundred-square-mile 
Hawizeh marshes. Using a flotilla of impro- 
vised boats and barges, the Iranians made 
their way through waist-deep stagnant black 
water, establishing fighting postings on the 
natural islets of grass and marsh reeds as 
well as on several man-made islands that 
supported oil drilling. The terrain played to 
Iran's advantage in light infantry, and its au- 
dacity caught the Iraqis completely by sur- 
prise. Iranian troops nearly seized a narrow 
causeway over which the major road between 
Basra and Baghdad traversed. If Iran cut this 
vital roadway, Basra and its one million in- 
habitants would have been severed from 
Baghdad's control. 

Alarmed, the CIA rushed new imagery of 
these Iranian forces to Baghdad. The agency 
strongly advised the Iraqis to seal this breach 
before the Iranians could exploit their break- 
through. The Iraqis mustered superior armor 
and artillery and counterattacked in one of 

the largest and most savage battles of the 
war. Iraqi shells rained deadly nerve gas 
while electric power lines were diverted into 
the swamp, electrocuting many of the Irani- 
an defenders. After two months of fighting, 
Iran held on to a few toeholds of mosquito- 
infested swamp islets, but more than twenty 
thousand Iranians died in their failed bid to 

cut the road. 42 

When full diplomatic relations were estab- 
lished in 1984, the CIA opened a full-scale 
station in Baghdad supervised by a station 
chief under the direct supervision of the op- 
erations directorate. 43 On paper the CIA sta- 
tion chief met formally on fourteen separate 
occasions with senior Iraqi officials over the 
next few years, but in reality it was much 
more a continuous ongoing relationship. The 
CIA relayed classified data obtained from 
Saudi and ELF-One AWACS on Iranian air- 
craft operations and passed the latest im- 
agery of Iranian units directly to Baghdad, 

where the station chief was authorized to 
show a slightly altered version to the Iraqis. 
The Iraqi generals were free to study the im- 
agery, taking notes and keeping drawings 
provided by CIA analysts. While the Iraqis 
would check the CIA's photographs with 
satellite imagery they received from the 
French too, nevertheless this presented the 
Iraqi generals with an unprecedented view 
into the lay of the Iranian military, as well as 
American intelligence capabilities. 


Jharon's Grand Design 

JVlodern Lebanon sprang from a touch 

of European colonialism and a dash of 
Middle Eastern haggling. After the First 
World War, the French carved out the coun- 
try from the old Ottoman Empire and gran- 
ted the rump state independence in 1943. 
However, they structured Lebanon's govern- 
ment into a Gordian knot. Maronite Christi- 
ans, Sunnis, Shias, Druzes, and more than a 
dozen other confessions shared power in an 
arrangement that allocated every significant 
job in the government based upon the popu- 
lace's religious affiliation as determined by a 
1932 census— the last ever taken in the coun- 
try. In this antediluvian text, the Christians 
made up the majority population, and thus 

were permanently allotted the powerful pres- 
idency and head of the armed forces. The 
next largest group, the Sunnis, were given 
the less powerful prime minister's slot, while 
the Shia received the weak speakership of 
the parliament. This arrangement stumbled 
along for the next three decades, and Leban- 
on prospered. The business acumen of the 
population transcended their political divi- 
sions. According to one tale, when a Le- 
banese schoolboy was asked by his teacher, 
"How much is two and two?" he replied, "Am 
I buying or selling?" 1 

Beneath this veneer of harmony, however, 
Lebanon was held together with chewing 
gum and baling wire. As the population 
demographics changed, the power-sharing 
arrangement reflected less and less the real- 
ities within the country. The establishment 
of Israel strained this delicate balance as two 
hundred thousand disenfranchised Palestini- 
an refugees arrived in southern Lebanon. 

The Shia community of southern Lebanon, 
viewed as backward hicks by their Christian 
and Sunni countrymen, had been relegated 
to minor cabinet posts devoid of real power, 
but they were the fastest-growing sect within 
the country, soon making up a third of the 
population. The facade of unity finally 
shattered in the 1970s. Several thousand 
Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) 
fighters led by the charismatic Palestinian 
nationalist Yasser Arafat arrived in Lebanon 
after being forcefully expelled from Jordan. 
In Lebanon, Arafat established a de facto 
state with a separate army and parallel gov- 
ernment in the Palestinian refugee camps in 
West Beirut and southern Lebanon. They re- 
peatedly launched attacks into northern Is- 
rael, with the poor Shia of south Lebanon 
bearing much of the brunt of the massive 
and sometimes indiscriminate Israeli repris- 
als. The Shia populace bitterly resented Ara- 
fat and the PLO, as did the ruling Maronite 

Christians, who viewed them as a threat to 
their hold on power. 

The powder keg finally exploded in April 
1976, following a failed assassination at- 
tempt by the PLO on Pierre Gemayel, the 
leader of the right-wing Christian Phalange, 
as he left church. Gemayel's brutish foot sol- 
diers retaliated by ambushing a bus, killing 
twenty-seven Palestinian civilians. Lebanon 
soon split apart along confessional seams in 
an orgy of slaughters and reprisals. Syria 
moved troops into Lebanon as peacekeepers, 
with the scheming Syrian president Hafez al- 
Assad obtaining a mandate from the Arab 
League that enabled him to occupy two- 
thirds of the country. By the time Ronald 
Reagan took the oath of office, Lebanon was 
a country in name only. Perhaps one hun- 
dred thousand people had died in the six- 
year civil war. Warring factions divided the 
country: West Beirut and southern Lebanon 
were governed by the PLO, left-wing Sunni, 

and the Shia Amal Party; East Beirut was run 
by competing Christians; the hills surround- 
ing the city were occupied by Christians and 
Druze; and the Syrian army controlled the 
north and west Lebanon with troops en- 
trenched in West Beirut. 

In July 1981, an especially bloody ex- 
change between the PLO and Israel left more 
than five hundred dead and threatened to ex- 
pand into a wider war with Syria. Secretary 
of Defense Caspar Weinberger feared this 
would erode Arab support for the newly an- 
nounced CENTCOM, so Reagan dispatched 
the skilled American negotiator Philip Habib 
to broker a cease-fire. Habib, a Lebanese 
American who grew up in a Jewish neighbor- 
hood in Brooklyn, succeeded in getting both 
the PLO and Israel to agree to a cease-fire in 
Lebanon. Yet it remained an uneasy peace, 
and was not popular with many in the right- 
wing Likud government of Israeli prime 

minister Menachem Begin, especially his de- 
fense minister, Ariel Sharon. 

In a 2002 statement to reporters, Presid- 
ent George W. Bush famously described Ariel 
Sharon as "a man of peace," a description at 
odds with the Israeli leader's actions over 

fifty years. 2 In fact, Ariel Sharon was a warri- 
or. He'd joined a paramilitary unit as a teen- 
ager, and he eventually rose to senior com- 
mand, launching Israel's daring attack across 
to the west bank of the Suez Canal during the 
October 1973 war. At times ruthless, he 
earned the nickname "The Bulldozer" due to 
his girth and style. Like a hussar of an earlier 
era, Sharon showed a flare for both brilliance 
and recklessness. 

Sharon and Begin longed for an opportun- 
ity to destroy the PLO. "Begin viewed Arafat 
as little more than Hitler," said retired senior 
DIA analyst Jeff White, who worked Leban- 
on for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of 
Staff. Sharon unilaterally expanded the 

Lebanon cease-fire to include any attack 
against a Jew worldwide, arguing that the 
PLO and Beirut remained the nexus of all 
terrorism and so it all ultimately went back 
to their culpability. 

Ariel Sharon formulated a plan to solve the 
Lebanese problem in one great sweep of Is- 
raeli armor. Since 1975, Israel had been de- 
veloping a close military relationship with 
the Maronite Christians, providing them 
with arms and equipment. Sharon proposed 
a combined attack to destroy both the PLO 
and the Syrians. The vaunted Israeli Defense 
Forces would drive to Beirut, destroying Ara- 
fat's meager force and, along the way, 
smashing the Syrian army too. With these 
two troublemakers out of the way, Bashir 
Gemayel would assume the presidency and 
then recognize Israel. In one stroke, Lebanon 
would move from an Israeli liability to an as- 
set. 3 In January 1982, Sharon secretly flew to 

Beirut to meet with Gemayel and his father, 
Pierre, to consummate the deal. 

The Phalange leader embraced Sharon's 
scheme. The Israelis would conduct the ma- 
jor combat operations against the PLO and 
the Syrians, but the Christians would do the 
dirty work of cleaning the PLO remnants off 
the streets and out of the buildings of West 
Beirut, a mission Sharon was not eager for 
the casualty-averse Israeli army to 

Both Begin and Sharon worked to garner 
U.S. support for their plan. Appreciating the 
Cold War myopia of the American super- 
power, they repeatedly stressed to Reagan 
and other senior officials the Soviet hand be- 
hind Syria and the PLO and the important 
role Israel could play in defeating these cli- 
ents of Moscow. In February 1982, Israel 
provided Weinberger with an overview of the 
proposed operation, which called for occupa- 
tion of almost half of Lebanon. 

An Israeli invasion of Lebanon alarmed 
most of official Washington. The CIA feared 
it could trigger a Soviet intervention. Bing 
West at Defense argued that military action 
would not solve Israel's long-term problem. 
"Palestinian nationalism to say nothing of 
Arab nationalism or Islamic fundamentalism 
will not die with the PLO infrastructure," he 
wrote Weinberger. The defense secretary was 
even more strident, recommending to 
Reagan that the United States dissuade the 
Israelis by threatening to withhold further 

weapons sales. 4 

The professional diplomats at the State 
Department shared this view. "The primary 
effort should be directed toward deterring 
the Israeli action, but concurrently we must 
cut our losses by clearly dissociating the Un- 
ited States before the fact from any action Is- 
rael may take in Lebanon," wrote L. Paul 
Bremer, then a senior official in the secretary 

of state's office. 5 

But Bremer's boss, Alexander Haig, who'd 
graduated from senior general in Europe to 
secretary of state, did not agree. A staunch 
supporter of the Jewish state, he viewed the 
Arab-Israeli crisis in Cold War terms, pitting 
the American proxy against the Soviet- 
backed Arabs. Neither the historic roots of 
the conflict nor the sectarian milieu that 
fostered the Lebanese Civil War entered into 
Haig's calculations. Lebanon was a Cold War 
battleground, and he saw Israeli victory en- 
tirely in that light. Critics later accused Haig 
of privately giving the Israelis a green light 
for their attack. But Haig always denied the 
charge, and the documentary evidence sup- 
ports his view. During a meeting with Israeli 
general Uri Sagi, Haig repeatedly cautioned 
that an unprovoked Israeli attack would have 
"grave" implications for U.S.-Israeli rela- 
tions.- Nonetheless, Haig clearly favored a 
robust Israeli attack on the PLO, if based on 
a legitimate provocation. 

Following one meeting between Sharon 
and Haig, the American secretary of state en- 
thusiastically pointed to a map of Lebanon 
and said, "You see, if they have to go in, their 
plan would be to link up the group here in 
the south with the Christians up here." 

The normally reticent diplomat Morris 
Draper blurted out, "For Christ's sake, Mr. 
Secretary, there's a million and a half 
Muslims between them, and at least a mil- 
lion of them are Shia!" This fact came as a 
surprise to Al Haig. z 

Sharon got his casus belli on June 4, 1982, 
when the Israeli ambassador in London was 
shot and seriously wounded. The fact that 
the culprits were from Abu Nidal's splinter 
organization and bitterly opposed to Arafat 
made no difference. Two days later, on 
Sunday morning, June 6, Israeli troops 
poured into Lebanon in three giant columns 
swiftly moving north. 

Israeli officials reassured the United States 
that they had no intention of advancing to 
Beirut or starting a war with Syria. Prime 
Minister Begin personally assured President 
Reagan that his army would not move more 
than forty kilometers into Lebanon— just far 
enough to drive the PLO away from rocket 
range of northern Israel. Israel's ambassador 
told Weinberger a similar story. On June 9, 
after meeting with Begin, Philip Habib flew 
to Damascus to assure President al-Assad 
that Israel had no interest in a war with 
Syria. But the Israelis' words failed to match 
their army's actions. While Habib was still 
talking with al-Assad, Sharon ordered an at- 
tack on Syrian air-to-air missile sites in the 
Bekaa Valley. The unprepared and out- 
classed Syrian air force rose to challenge the 
Israeli jets. In a massive daylong dogfight the 
Jewish pilots decimated the Syrians, 
knocking eighty-two jets out of the sky 
without a single loss of their own. A 

dismayed Habib cabled back to Haig, "I am 
astounded and dismayed by what happened 
today. The prime minister of Israel really 

sent me off on a wild goose chase." 2 

The Soviet premier sent Reagan a message 
via the hotline between Washington and Mo- 
scow warning that the Israeli attack created 
an "extremely dangerous situation." He 
warned that it risked a wider war between 
the superpowers. Alarmed, Reagan called for 
a cease-fire to take effect the next day at six 
a.m. local (Lebanese) time. The president 
then sent a warning to the Israeli prime min- 
ister: "Menachem, Israel's refusal to agree to 
this cease-fire would aggravate what is 
already a great threat to world peace and 
place a permanent stain on a relationship I 

truly treasure. Sincerely, Ron."— 

Begin accepted the American cease-fire in 
name, but he refused to halt the army's ad- 
vance northward, calling it a "rolling" cease- 
fire. "Show us in the president's message 

where it says 'in place'?" Begin demanded of 
Habib following the latter's arrival in Tel 
Aviv from Damascus, having secured al-As- 
sad's backing for the cease-fire. 

"What are you talking about?!" an incredu- 
lous Phil Habib asked the prime minister 
during a tense meeting. "A cease-fire is a 

cease-fire in place!" 11 

Begin finally agreed to the cease-fire, but 
not before Sharon drove one column into 
Syrian-controlled Lebanon, where the forces 
manhandled an armor division that had been 
moved to try to block the Israeli advance. In 
just eight days, the Israelis linked up with 
Gemayel's forces, trapping in West Beirut 
not only the PLO, but Syrian military person- 
nel. The Israelis imposed a blockade and 
began shelling the PLO-controlled West 
Beirut in an intense bombardment that on 
one day rained a thousand hundred-pound 
artillery shells down on a densely packed 
area of only six square miles. 

The wanton carnage and the Israeli decep- 
tion about the true scope of their war aims 
raised the ire of President Reagan. CIA Dir- 
ector William Casey recommended cutting 
off intelligence support to Israel, which 
Weinberger supported. Richard Armitage 
suggested the United States should consider 
suspending "normal" diplomatic relations 
and push for a Security Council resolution 
condemning the Israeli attack. When Begin 
came to Washington on June 21, the presid- 
ent chastised the prime minister for Israel's 

Haig harbored no such desire to rein in the 
Israelis. With Yasser Arafat cornered, he 
shared Sharon's impulse to kill the quarry. 
"By God," said a furious Al Haig after 
Reagan's dressing-down of the Israeli prime 
minister, "I'm going to tell Begin to go into 

Be-rut and finish the job."— Haig countered 
that the United States needed to support Is- 
rael, force the Syrians out, and help Gemayel 

form a new government in Lebanon. The sec- 
retary advocated deploying a large peace- 
keeping force of perhaps fourteen thousand 
men to help prop up the new Phalange gov- 
ernment. 13 "The quick Israeli victory posed 
an opportunity to strengthen our position," 
he wrote to Reagan. 

Weinberger and General John Vessey 
steadfastly opposed sending any American 
peacekeepers into the boiling cauldron of Le- 
banon. "Any introduction of U.S. forces 
without an agreement would put U.S. lives at 
risk in a possible continuous low-level war- 
fare from every extremist faction in the 
area." Both feared it could lead to greater 
Iranian or Syrian involvement. 

The haughty secretary of state chafed at 
both the Defense Department's views and 
their meddling in Lebanon policy. His per- 
sonal relationships quickly deteriorated 
within the administration, including with the 
White House staff. On June 25, the thin- 

skinned Al Haig resigned, citing differences 
on foreign policy. While Reagan actually 
leaned toward Haig's views at the time, he 
was not sorry to see the imperious general 
go. Writing in his diary, Reagan noted, "Ac- 
tually the only disagreement was over wheth- 
er I made policy or the secretary of state 

did." 14 

The president replaced Haig with a former 
combat marine and Republican stalwart, Ge- 
orge P. Shultz. The new secretary of state 
shared many of Haig's views on the Middle 
East, but had a less prickly persona. Smart, 
serious, and composed, he was slow to anger, 
but when he did get angry, his eyes narrowed 
conspicuously as his voice grew stern. In 
bureaucratic infighting, Shultz proved stub- 
born, every bit the equal of the mule Caspar 
Weinberger, and the two men were soon at 
loggerheads on a host of policy questions, in- 
cluding Lebanon. 

Habib brokered an agreement to evacuate 
the PLO. Arafat and his five thousand PLO 
fighters left for Tunisia, embarked on 
Western ships, as U.S. Marines and French 
and Italian peacekeepers deployed around 
Beirut to provide a buffer between the antag- 
onists until the PLO's departure. It was not 
an easy sell to the Israelis, requiring another 
threatening communique from Reagan to 
Begin to bring it about: "There must be an 
end to the unnecessary bloodshed particu- 
larly among innocent civilians. I insist upon 
a cease-fire now and until the PLO have left 
Beirut. The relationship between our two na- 
tions is at stake." 15 

Neither Weinberger nor Vessey supported 
the Habib plan. "By putting U.S. forces 
between the PLO and the Israelis we might 
as well be pouring burning gasoline on an 
already difficult situation rather than putting 
oil on troubled waters," General Vessey 
wrote to the defense secretary. 

With Arafat gone, the peacekeeping troops 
were withdrawn, but the situation around 
Beirut remained tense. Sharon champed at 
the bit to get into West Beirut, and he re- 
mained convinced that many PLO fighters 
had stayed behind in the city and in the 
Palestinian refugee camps south of Beirut. 
While Arafat had escaped his noose, Shar- 
on's grand design to remake Lebanon ap- 
peared within reach. Only American in- 
transigence prevented him from seeing it to 

Despite the president's anger at Begin, to 
bring stability back to Lebanon, the Reagan 
administration plan largely parroted Shar- 
on's scheme. Washington would prop up the 
Lebanese government by strengthening its 
army, traditionally the least sectarian organ- 
ization within the country. As the Lebanese 
military capacity increased, it would gradu- 
ally expand its control outside of Beirut. And 
the man the United States backed as the new 

Lebanese president was none other than 
Bashir Gemayel. 

Although he espoused national unity and 
an end to the civil war, Gemayel operated 
more as Tony Soprano than as Abraham Lin- 
coln. Gemayel ordered the killing of his chief 
Christian rival, Tony Frangieh. His Phalange 
militia had the reputation as the executor of 
some of the worst atrocities of the civil war. 
"Bashir, when he wasn't murdering people, 
was a likable man," recalled American am- 
bassador to Lebanon Robert Dillon. "He had 

great boyish charm."— 

"A murderous thug" is how one retired 
CIA officer who worked Lebanon during the 
early 1980s described the Lebanese presid- 
ent. Nevertheless, Reagan threw his support 
behind him. 

This decision immediately alienated many 
Lebanese Shia. Up to this point, American 
diplomats had a good rapport with this 
growing population in Lebanon. An 

experienced Middle East hand, Nathaniel 
Howell recalled traveling throughout their 
squalid neighborhoods, listening to their 
concerns and offering American goodwill. 
His actions typify those of American diplo- 
mats even during the dark days of the civil 
war. But the Israeli invasion severely 
strained these ties, and the bargain with the 
Phalange leader Gemayel ended them. 

At four p.m. on Tuesday, September 14, 
1982, Bashir Gemayel arrived at the 
Phalange headquarters in East Beirut to give 
a speech to his followers. Looking on was a 
twenty-six-year-old Maronite Lebanese, 
Habib Shartouni, a member of the Syrian So- 
cialist Nationalist Party. Motivated by 
President al-Assad's desire for revenge 
against Israel, Shartouni waited until he be- 
lieved the Phalange leader had arrived at the 
podium, then went to a nearby rooftop and 
pressed a button, remotely detonating a 
powerful bomb he had previously planted in 

his sister's apartment directly above the 
meeting room. 12 Gemayel died in a flash of 
cordite and crumbling concrete, along with 
twenty-six other senior Phalange members. 

Sharon now had his excuse. The Israeli 
army occupied West Beirut. Sharon met with 
Phalange commanders atop a five-story 
building that served as an Israeli forward 
command post located a few hundred meters 
from the Palestinian refugee camp of Shat- 

ila. They agreed for the Phalange fighters 
to move into that camp as well as another 
nearby Palestinian camp, Sabra, in order to 
root out the Palestinian fighters Sharon 
thought remained. Over the next two days, 
under the apathetic eyes of the Israeli milit- 
ary, the Phalange fighters exacted revenge. 
Rather than eradicating PLO soldiers, it was 
a slaughter of the innocents. The Phalange 
methodically moved through the two camps 
executing between eight hundred and two 
thousand civilians— elderly, women, and 

children— in one of the worst acts of terror- 
ism committed in the modern Middle East. 19 
The resulting international outcry led to the 
dismissal of Ariel Sharon. 

Shocked by the massacre, on September 
29, Reagan sent the marines back into Beirut 
as part of a force of British, French, and Itali- 
an peacekeepers. Their mission was a nebu- 
lous tasking called "presence." The State De- 
partment's director of political-military af- 
fairs, Jonathan Howe, best defined this as 
"to support the government of Lebanon and 
the Lebanese armed forces by their presence. 
That presence provides the Lebanese govern- 
ment clear evidence of international concern 
for Lebanon and an element of needed sta- 
bility and confidence which reinforces its 

pursuit of national recognition. "— Overall, 
the American plan remained the same. The 
marines would provide the Lebanese govern- 
ment with reassurance and the breathing 
space needed to rebuild its army, which 

would allow it to gradually reassert its con- 
trol over the entire country. The United 
States now threw its support for Lebanese 
president behind Bashir's younger brother, 
Amin Gemayel, a man who lacked the brains 

and gravitas of his older sibling.— 

The U.S. Marines undertook their vague 
presence mission with their customary vigor. 
Based around the airport, they conducted 
patrols to maintain visibility among the Le- 
banese population. Prudent defensive pre- 
cautions such as entrenchments, earthen 
berms, and antivehicle ditches were openly 
discouraged by senior generals and admirals 
as they would isolate and reduce the mar- 
ines' visibility. For the first six months, the 
marines got along reasonably well with all 
the warring factions, including the Shia 
populace around the airport, who provided a 
number of tips about impending threats to 
the Americans. 

The foundation for the American plan to 
save Lebanon rested on a canard. Despite its 
reputation as an organization inclusive to all 
the country's faiths, the Lebanese army 
suffered the same factional malaise that 
plagued the entire country. The rank and file 
retained more loyalty to their respective reli- 
gious camps than to the national army. The 
officer corps was dominated by Maronite 
Christians. Amin Gemayel's actions only 
compounded the divides. He used the armed 
forces' intelligence service to focus on 
Muslim opponents and formed an army spe- 
cial force to attack his opponents. He formed 
a new army brigade that comprised only 
members of his own Phalange militia. In 
December 1982, he appointed Ibrahim Tan- 
nous as the army's senior general. While the 
newly arrived marines viewed Tannous as 
nonpartisan, he had a long history of in- 
volvement with the Phalange Party and had 
been Bashir Gemayel's chief military adviser. 

While Tannous did try to build a multicon- 
fessional force, his pro-Israeli sentiment ali- 
enated many factions in the country. As one 
retired CIA officer stationed in Lebanon dur- 
ing the time observed, "We went out of our 
way to distinguish between the government 
of Lebanon and the Christians/Phalange, but 
it was a distinction without a difference, cer- 
tainly as far as the Muslims were con- 
cerned." 22 

As the United States strengthened the Le- 
banese army, it chipped away at the percep- 
tion of American neutrality. When the Le- 
banese army decided to strike at Shia and 
Druze militias as part of their inkblot expan- 
sion of control around Beirut, its artillery 
supported the attack from positions inside 
the U.S. Marine Corps perimeter at the air- 
port. Marines manning joint checkpoints 
with Lebanese soldiers immediately found 
themselves the targets of those resisting 

Gemayel. 23 In a press conference, their 

powerful leader, Walid Jumblatt, said as 
much: "The mere fact that they [the marines] 
are providing the Lebanese factional army 
with logistical support, expertise, and train- 
ing is enough to consider them enemies." 24 

Secretary Shultz's peace initiative com- 
pounded this neutrality gap. He shuttled 
among Israel, Syria, and Lebanon trying to 
reach an agreement to get both Israel and 
Syria to withdraw their forces and to get Le- 
banon to accept peace with the Jewish state. 
But the senior American diplomat never 
broadened his talks to include national re- 
conciliation and excluded major sectional 
factions, especially the Shia and Druze. He 
managed to get Gemayel to agree to a largely 
Israeli-dictated peace settlement on May 17, 
1983. However, it quickly foundered when 
the Syrians refused to withdraw their forces, 
which was a precondition for the Israeli pul- 

lout. 25 News of the secret deal between Israel 
and the Lebanese government confirmed the 

perception in the squalid refugee camps and 
back alleys of Beirut that the Lebanese gov- 
ernment was little more than a tool for the 
Christians and Israelis. As Weinberger 
noted, "If the LAF [Lebanese armed forces] 
is seen to be operating.. .as an instrument of 
the Maronite Christian Faction no amount of 
U.S. support can develop the consensus 
needed for a sovereign nation."— 

n the spring of 1983, the newly arrived 

marine commander at the airport, Colonel 
Timothy Geraghty, found himself in the 
middle of his government's dichotomous 
policy. A decorated Vietnam veteran with a 
characteristic marine "high and tight" hair- 
cut and ramrod bearing, he understood the 
danger his troops faced in Lebanon. Ger- 
aghty's mission remained presence and vis- 
ibility, while at the same time providing sup- 
port to the Lebanese armed forces. Although 

his forces were arrayed in static positions in 
the flat lowland around the airport, erecting 
berms and ditches was seen as incompatible 
with his peacekeeping mission. The increas- 
ing support by the Americans for the Le- 
banese army made marines the obvious tar- 
get of those opposing Amin Gemayel. 22 In 
retrospect, as Geraghty observed, "Conduct- 
ing a comprehensive training program for 
the Lebanese armed forces while simultan- 
eously participating in a peacekeeping mis- 
sion is inherently contradictory."— 

Nevertheless, the marines clung to the illu- 
sion of nonalignment. "Our commitment 
here is really a peacekeeping role," Geraghty 
told a marine corps historian in May 1983. 
"It is highly political with the diplomatic side 
and the political side overshadowing the tac- 
tical side." He eschewed using force and con- 
tinued to have his men carry unloaded rifles, 
worried more about accidental discharges 
than the Druze or Shia. This was especially 

true after one freakish accident when a mar- 
ine's rifle inadvertently discharged and the 
bullet struck the legs of two Lebanese sol- 
diers jogging together along the perimeter 

road around the airport. 22 

As the United States became associated 
with one faction of the civil war, shells in- 
creasingly fell around the airport. The mar- 
ines maintained restraint, but they no longer 
jogged; instead, the nation's premier warri- 
ors dug more bunkers and filled more sand- 
bags, adopting a molelike existence, not ven- 
turing out unless in extremis. 32 

Despite the deteriorating situation, Secret- 
ary Shultz continued to advocate for the 
marines to stay in Lebanon. "They are an im- 
portant deterrent, a symbol of the interna- 
tional backing behind the legitimate govern- 
ment of Lebanon," said Shultz before the 
House Committee on Foreign Affairs. "To re- 
move the marines would put both the 

government and what we are trying to 
achieve in jeopardy." 31 

In response to Geraghty's plight, the Joint 
Chiefs did nothing. No one in Washington 
thought to change the restrictive rules of en- 
gagement that governed Geraghty's actions, 
and during months of discussions in the 
Tank about arming the Lebanese army, the 
impact of this policy on the safety of the mar- 
ines at the airport rarely came up for discus- 
sion. The steady stream of generals and 
Pentagon civilians who visited Geraghty's 
headquarters, just off the main road to the 
airport terminal, recognized the marines' 
vulnerability, but remained committed to the 
existing course. The Pentagon briefly con- 
sidered sending in another thousand-man 
marine battalion, which would have allowed 
the marines to expand their perimeter, giv- 
ing them some breathing room, but neither 
Weinberger nor Vessey wanted to expand the 
ground commitment. 32 While the Joint 

Chiefs, including the new marine corps com- 
mandant, P. X. Kelley, recommended avoid- 
ing becoming involved in the growing intra- 
mural fighting, they also offered no change 
in the marine peacekeeping mission or its 

defense posture. 33 

But Geraghty did not help his position. On 
one occasion, when Vessey was out of town, 
acting chairman Admiral James Watkins 
personally called Geraghty asking for his as- 
sessment. "Was there anything he would like 
to do differently or anything else he needed? 
Did he need a change in mission?" Geraghty 

answered no to each inquiry from Watkins. 34 

In late July of 1983, Deputy National Se- 
curity Adviser Robert "Bud" McFarlane ar- 
rived in Beirut as the new presidential envoy, 
replacing Philip Habib. The forty-six-year- 
old Naval Academy graduate and retired 

marine corps lieutenant colonel had a prom- 
ising career as an artillery officer, with two 
tours in Vietnam before becoming the first 
marine White House Fellow and then milit- 
ary assistant to Henry Kissinger during the 
heady days of the China opening. Like many 
other military officers, once exposed to the 
White House and the exhilaration of Wash- 
ington, he found it hard to go back to the dull 
chores of the barracks. 

McFarlane soon fleeted up to be Reagan's 
third national security adviser in as many 
years. Yet he did not exude confidence to his 
contemporaries. He spoke with a ponderous, 
monotone voice. McFarlane's melancholy 
demeanor reinforced this opinion. Although 
cordial, he appeared tormented and gripped 
by self-doubt. The two administration po- 
tentates—Weinberger and Shultz— ques- 
tioned the depth of his foreign policy pedi- 
gree. "McFarlane is a man of evident 

limitations," summed up the dismissive de- 
fense secretary. 35 

The Cold War guided much of McFarlane's 
understanding of the conflict. Settling in at 
the American ambassador's residence in East 
Beirut, he saw the Syrian hand, and by ex- 
tension the Soviet Union's, behind much of 
the opposition to the Lebanese government. 
The fact that Syria's support for the Druze 
had more to do with local power politics, and 
not any wider agenda by Moscow, did not af- 
fect his calculations. McFarlane immediately 
wanted to expand the American military 
mission to prop up the fledgling Lebanese 
army. He called for another battalion in or- 
der to expand the marines' control into the 
strategic hills west of the airport and pro- 
posed embedding American advisers into the 

Lebanese army. 3 ^ 

Geraghty opposed this overt shift from 
neutrality to combatant. When sophisticated 
army radar arrived to help the marines to 

detect incoming shells, McFarlane wanted 
these to support the Lebanese army. Both 
Geraghty and his senior commander, Vice 
Admiral Edward Martin, expressed serious 
reservations about this mission creep. 
Martin, an experienced combat pilot who'd 
spent six years as a prisoner in North Viet- 
nam, replied with a prescient message: "The 
finely balanced position of neutrality with re- 
gard to the various factions is in jeopardy, 
and should one of the factions believe that 
this info is assisting a rival in targeting their 
weapons, the U.S. Multinational Force will 
become a target for their frustrations." 32 

As Martin predicted, as U.S. support in- 
creased for the Lebanese army against the 
Druze and Shia, marine casualties mounted. 
In just a little more than a month, from 
August 4 to September 7, 1983, four marines 
died and twenty-eight were wounded, more 
than three times the casualties suffered 

during the entire previous ten months of the 

marines' deployment to Lebanon. 3 ^ 

The situation came to a head in September 
1983. With casualties mounting, the Israelis 
unilaterally pulled their tanks out of the 
Chouf Mountains to a more defensible line to 
the south. This created a power vacuum in 
the strategic hills overlooking Beirut. Militias 
of all stripes— Christian, Druze, and 
Shia— moved into the void. A three- 
thousand-man force of Gemayel's Phalange 
won the footrace, only to be clobbered by 
Walid Jumblatt's Druze forces, backed by 
Syrian artillery. General Tannous ordered 
the Lebanese army into the fray to reassert 
Lebanese government control and also to 

protect the routed Phalange. 32 He commit- 
ted his best unit, the 8th Brigade, a mul- 
ticonfessional unit (although its officers were 
majority Christian) trained by American spe- 
cial forces and under the command of an in- 
decisive and panicky Francophile general 

named Michel Aoun. Fighting raged around 
the strategic hamlet of Suq al-Gharb. Before 
the war, this had been a pleasant vacation 
spot, nestled in pine trees with bucolic vistas 
of the city and harbor below. Now it was a 
strategic locale, and whoever controlled it 
threatened Christian East Beirut. 

Increasingly hysterical reports from Aoun 
alarmed both McFarlane and his senior mil- 
itary adviser, a cool, slow-talking Ten- 
nessean, Brigadier General Carl Stiner of the 
special forces, who had been sent by the 
chairman as his representative to the Le- 
banese army. McFarlane sent a cable back to 
the White House urging a prompt American 
military response and expanding the mar- 
ines' mission to combat. There are "enorm- 
ous strategic stakes for the U.S. and the 
western world in the eastern Mediter- 
ranean. ..that would certainly justify the pos- 
sible use of military power," wrote 

The next night, Druze forces hit the 8th 
Brigade from the south and east. Tannous 
turned to Stiner for help. The special forces 

general liked the Lebanese general. 42 Stiner 
approached McFarlane about providing mil- 
itary support for Aoun's hard-pressed 

On Sunday morning, from the library of 
the U.S. ambassador's residence, McFarlane 
wrote a cable that has become famous in the 
chronicles of American foreign policy. It is 
known as "the sky is falling" memo: "This is 
an action message. A second attack against 
the same Lebanese Armed Forces unit is ex- 
pected this evening. Ammunition and morale 
are low and raise the serious possibility that 
the enemy brigade, which enjoys greater 
strength and unlimited fire support and re- 
supply, will break through and penetrate the 
Beirut perimeter." McFarlane continued in 
dramatic fashion: "Tonight we could be in 
enemy lines." 

McFarlane laid the blame on Syrian and 
now Iranian mischief. He couched the issue 
as an epic struggle of the Cold War. If Suq al- 
Gharb fell, then Lebanon would succumb to 
the Soviet client in Damascus. The United 
States needed to commit its airpower imme- 
diately or risk losing a major battle against 
the communists. As veteran CBS News 
Pentagon correspondent David Martin as- 
tutely noted in his 1988 book on the Reagan 
administration and terrorism: "It was a mes- 
sage perfectly tuned to the ear of a President 
who boasted that not one inch of territory 
had been lost to the communists on his 
watch." 41 

Weinberger remained dubious of McFar- 
lane and his dire predictions. After reading 
the cable, he called down to the National 
Military Command Center (NMCC) to get his 
own intelligence update. The brigadier gen- 
eral on watch told the secretary that DIA's 
own assessment did not "read it as badly as 

McFarlane." The 8th Brigade had actually re- 
pulsed the attack. 42 

At six p.m., senior officials gathered in the 
White House Situation Room to discuss what 
to do about the remote town of Suq al- 
Gharb, upon which American prestige now 
rested. With Shultz backing McFarlane's 
view and at loggerheads with Weinberger, 
the two men decided on a compromise. They 
shifted the entire decision of using force 
down to Colonel Geraghty. They would leave 
it up to the marine commander to decide if 
they should support the Lebanese army. 
Later that evening, President Reagan signed 
an order to that effect: "The dominant ter- 
rain in the vicinity of Suq al Gharb is vital to 
the safety of U.S. personnel. As a con- 
sequence, if the U.S. ground commander de- 
termines it is in danger of falling as a result 
of attack involving non-Lebanese forces and 
if requested by host government, appropriate 

U.S. military assistance is authorized." 43 

Initially, Geraghty resisted McFarlane's 
plan. The colonel knew that his marines 
would pay the price for America directly in- 
tervening at Suq al-Gharb. As tempers 
flared, the hard-nosed marine exchanged 
heated words with Stiner over the wisdom of 
a direct American involvement in the war. 
When Stiner proposed embedding a small 
team of marines with the 8th Brigade to dir- 
ect American air and naval fire, Geraghty 
fired back: "I firmly believe that this is in dir- 
ect violation of my mission." 44 During one of 
these passionate exchanges with Stiner, Ger- 
aghty yelled, "General, don't you realize we'll 
pay the price down here? We'll get 

slaughtered!" 45 

Amid this crisis, Geraghty received a 
phone call from Washington. He was on his 
way to a meeting with General Tannous 
when his staff called him back to headquar- 
ters. Someone using an unknown call 
sign— Silver Screen Six— wanted to speak to 

the marine. On the other end of the line was 
Ronald Reagan. 

"Tell the marines that the entire nation is 
proud of you and the outstanding job you are 
doing against difficult odds," the president 
said in his usual upbeat manner. 

Geraghty, who liked the Republican pres- 
ident, thanked Reagan and ended the call 
with the U.S. Marines' motto: "Semper fi, 

Mr. President." 4 ^ 

While it was a typically kind gesture by 
Reagan, he might have better served the 
marines had he bothered to correct his ad- 
ministration's feeble, drifting Lebanon 
policy. While the United States rushed spare 
parts and ammunition to support the 8th 
Brigade's fight in the hills around Beirut, the 
administration continued to deny active in- 
volvement in the civil war. Uncertain about 
using force, Reagan had passed the buck to a 
hard-pressed colonel to decide the wisdom of 

On September 19, a massive artillery bom- 
bardment hit Suq al-Gharb and Phalange mi- 
litia targets around Beirut. Druze infantry 
and armor then struck the venerable 8th Bri- 
gade, with some Palestinians joining in the 
fighting for good measure. With General 
Tannous pleading for help and signals intel- 
ligence detecting Syrian and Iranian support 
for the attackers, Geraghty finally relented to 
McFarlane and Stiner. Four U.S. warships 
lobbed about three hundred seventy-pound 
explosive shells down on the Druze artillery 
and a column of tanks. This firepower blun- 
ted the attack. 

"The firing we did in support of the Le- 
banese army up at Suq al-Gharb clearly 
changed our role in my opinion," Geraghty 
said. "That moved us across the neutrality 
line." The toll to Geraghty's marines for 
straying across the line and becoming em- 
broiled in the civil war would be much higher 

than anyone had predicted. 42 




n the dark hours of a summer day in 

1982, a four-engine Iran Air 707 landed in 
Damascus. About two dozen Revolutionary 
Guards walked down the metal stairs and 
were greeted by the Iranian ambassador, 
Hojjat ol-Eslam Ali Akbar Mohtashemi. 
Operating on specific instructions from 
Iran's foreign ministry, Mohtashemi spirited 
the guardsmen across the border into Leban- 
on, where they established a headquarters in 
some vacant houses and a hotel just outside 
of the magnificent Roman ruins at Baalbek, 
home to three of the largest surviving 
temples to Jupiter, Venus, and Bacchus. 

The approval for this clandestine effort 
had been worked out during an earlier 

meeting between senior officials in Damas- 
cus. The Iranian delegation included not 
only Mohtashemi but the minister of defense 
and the head of the Revolutionary Guard, 
Mohsen Rezai. The twenty-eight-year-old 
guard commander was a pragmatic zealot. 
An economics student and doctoral candid- 
ate, he had never attended school in the 
West. He was ruthless and powerful, a trus- 
ted servant for both Khomeini and his suc- 
cessor, Ayatollah Khamenei. It was Rezai 
who transformed the Revolutionary Guard 
from a ragtag military into a sword for the 

Islamic Republic. 1 

The meeting came at a critical juncture in 
Iran's war with Iraq. Ayatollah Khomeini 
had just made the fateful decision to invade 
Iraq and depose Saddam Hussein. In carry- 
ing forward the war to spread his religious 
revolution, the Israeli invasion afforded a 
new opportunity to spread his message 
among a sympatric Shia populace and to 

strike directly at the hated Jewish occupier 
of Jerusalem. 

Initially, Syrian president Hafez al-Assad 
refused to allow many Revolutionary 
Guardsmen to transit his country. 
Khomeini's revolution held little appeal to 
the secularist-socialist despot. After the out- 
break of the Iran-Iraq War, al-Assad did per- 
mit some Iranian military into Damascus in 
order to make his hated Baathist rival Sad- 
dam Hussein's life uncomfortable with the 
possibility of an Iranian military threat on 
Iraq's western border. But when Sharon in- 
stigated the fight with the Syrian army dur- 
ing Israel's invasion of Lebanon, a bitter and 
revengeful al-Assad decided to open the 
floodgates for Khomeini's bearded foot sol- 
diers to strike back at Sharon. 

These two dozen men became the van- 
guard of eight hundred Iranian Revolution- 
ary Guards sent to this base in the fertile 
eastern Lebanese valley.- Under the 

protective umbrella of the Syrian army, they 
soon moved into more permanent billeting 
at Baalbek, taking over a Lebanese army 
base, the Sheik Abdullah Barracks. With a 
mission not unlike that of the American 
Green Berets, they came bearing military, 
political, and humanitarian assistance to the 
downtrodden Lebanese Shia, all the while 
spreading Iran's revolutionary message in 
the Levant. Within three years, this Iranian 
delegation united several disparate Shia 
fighters into the Islamic Republic's biggest 
foreign policy success: Hezbollah, or the 
Party of God. Over the next coming years, 
these fighters morphed from a small guer- 
rilla band into a major political party in Le- 
banon, one whose military wing eclipsed that 
of the Lebanese army. They staved off the re- 
gion's most powerful military— Israel— in two 
wars, and in one precise bombing inflicted 
the largest tactical defeat on the U.S. military 
since the Korean War. 

As it did many young Shia boys growing 

up in southern Beirut, the Lebanese Civil 

War shaped Sayeed Ali's future occupation. 3 
The son of a poor father who worked at the 
airport for an Eastern European airline, he 
was only seven when the war began. As a 
young teenager, Sayeed Ali longed to fight as 
he and his friends played army with real 
AK-47 assault rifles. He wanted the adven- 
ture of combat as he saw older kids joining 
the Amal militia commanded by a secularist 
named Nabih Berri. He too joined Amal, 
playing trumpet in their marching band until 
he was old enough to exchange his horn for a 
rifle. He and his friends would gather togeth- 
er, but rather than kicking a football around 
the sandlot, they drove to the daily firefight 
and took potshots at either the Phalange or 
the Palestinians. Sayeed Ali then worked as a 
bodyguard for the prominent cleric Sheik 

Mohammad Mehdi Shamseddine. Shamsed- 
dine was moderate by Lebanese Civil War 
standards. While he shared al-Sadr's views of 
Israel, he preached civil disobedience against 
the Israelis, as well as Christian-Muslim re- 
conciliation. "There is no Lebanon without 
its Christians, and there is no Lebanon 
without its Muslims," he once said. 

An Iranian-born Lebanese cleric, Musa al- 
Sadr influenced his political environment. 
He pressed for increased Shia power in Le- 
banon as well as waging war on Israel to free 
the occupied lands. "Israel is an utter evil" 

was a frequent al-Sadr slogan. 4 The cleric's 
disappearance in 1978 during a trip to Libya 
galvanized large swaths of the Shia popula- 
tion into backing his Amal movement. 

The Shia communities of Iran and Leban- 
on had a long, entwined history, with ties go- 
ing back some four hundred years. Families 
intermarried. Lebanese imams attended the 
same seminaries in Qom or Najaf. The 

Iranian Revolution excited many Lebanese 
Shia. Khomeini provided a beacon, a new 
way forward for the downtrodden masses in 
southern Lebanon. A few Iranians had 
fought in Lebanon during the civil war, most 
prominently Mostafa Chamran, one of the 
founders of the Revolutionary Guard. A 
steady trickle of religiously motivated Irani- 
ans attended the mosques in Beirut to pros- 
elytize, trying to plant the seeds of 
Khomeini's revolution. "There were always 
Iranians around, praying in the mosques and 
offering support to us," Sayeed Ali recalled. 

In Sharon's zeal to destroy the PLO, he re- 
mained wholly ignorant of the Lebanese Shia 
population that stood in his army's path. 
Happy to be rid of the PLO, many Shia 
greeted the Israeli soldiers warmly, shower- 
ing them with fistfuls of perfumed rice and 
flowers. This hospitality quickly changed, 
however. The Israeli army's liberal use of 
firepower and its frequent tactic of recon by 

fire in which tanks fired at anything that 
might remotely be a threat— a parked car or a 
house that overlooked its positions— killed 
many civilians. Operating in an alien culture, 
the ill-prepared Israelis adopted a heavy 
hand in their occupation, angering many 
Shia and opening the door even wider for 

Iran's message of resistance. 5 Had Sharon 
and Begin not blundered into invading Le- 
banon, "I don't know whether something 
called Hezbollah would have been born. I 
doubt it," said the organization's secretary 
general, Hassan Nasrallah.- 

As more Revolutionary Guardsmen ar- 
rived, they began making their way into the 
Shia slums of southern Beirut. They served 
as both social welfare agents and military ad- 
visers. They funded schools and organized 
basic services such as trash collection and 
sewage systems. The Iranians attended local 
mosques and after Friday prayers gave 
speeches extolling Ayatollah Khomeini and 

the natural ties between the Shia of Iran and 
Lebanon. The Iranian agents repeatedly 
linked the Israeli transgressions with Israel's 
chief benefactor, the United States, arguing 
that the two worked in consort against both 
Muslims and the Iranian Revolution. 

Many of the future leaders of the Iranian 
military earned their spurs as part of the ini- 
tial vanguard of guardsmen in Lebanon. This 
included the future Iranian defense minister, 
Ahmad Vahidi, who served as a military ad- 
viser and later formed an intelligence unit 
that eventually morphed into the Revolu- 
tionary Guard's elite clandestine paramilit- 
ary special forces unit, the Quds Force. 

Iran established a formal chain of com- 
mand for its operatives in Lebanon. Orders 
were relayed from the Iranian foreign minis- 
ter in Tehran to the embassy in Syria, where 
Ambassador Mohtashemi would relay it by 
radio or courier to the Revolutionary Guards 
in the Bekaa. Iranian cargo jets regularly 

landed at the Damascus airport, off-loading 
pallets of arms and munitions that were 
trucked to Lebanon. 

Iran's embassy in Lebanon served as an- 
other link in the guards' operations. One of 
the charges d'affaires, Kamal Majid, had 
been one of the student instigators who took 
over the U.S. embassy in 1979. A lifelong Re- 
volutionary Guard officer, he later served as 
the Iranian ambassador to Sudan, where he 
oversaw a similar paramilitary effort de- 
signed to expand Iran's influence along the 

Red Sea. z The military attache, Colonel 
Ahmad Motevaselian, gave tactical direction 
to the early guard operations in Beirut. The 
Tehran native operated under diplomatic 
cover and served as a key conduit between 
the Shia community in West Beirut and the 
Revolutionary Guard at Baalbek. A popular, 
charismatic commander, he played an im- 
portant role in cultivating disenchanted Le- 
banese Amal fighters. 

The Israeli invasion divided the main Shia 
Amal militia, headed by Nabih Berri. Mem- 
bers disagreed sharply over how much they 
should oppose or cooperate with the Israelis 
as well as over the role of Iran in the Shia or- 
ganization. Berri rejected the Iranian over- 
tures. He continued to see his movement as 
Lebanese and would not countenance taking 
directives from Tehran. But many of the 
young fighters embraced a more politically 
active Islam. Even if Israel had not invaded, 
these young devotees of Khomeini would 
likely have broken away from Berri, but Is- 
rael's actions galvanized those calling for ji- 
had and advocating the establishment of an 
Islamic state in Lebanon. The Revolution- 
ary Guard helped sow this discontent by cri- 
ticizing Amal's military prowess and offering 
both training and equipment to improve 
Shia fighting abilities. 9 

These emerging cracks finally split Amal 
apart during a tense meeting one evening at 

Shamseddine's house south of the airport. 
Nabih Berri had participated in an 
American-led effort to end the Israeli siege of 
West Beirut. He justified this decision as an 
effort to spare further injury to the Shia pop- 
ulation that found itself caught in the cross- 
fire between the Israelis and the PLO. When 
Berri arrived at Shamseddine's home, a 
heated argument ensued over the future of 
the Amal movement. Young hotheads ac- 
cused Berri of compromising the Shia cause 
by striking a bargain with the American and 
Israeli foe. At the end of the night, many 
young fighters walked away from Berri's 
leadership. This included Sayeed Ali, who 
had been guarding Shamseddine's house. 

Disenchanted, Sayeed Ali moved back into 
his parents' house in south Beirut and idled 
away in search of excitement. A friend of his, 
Mohammed Khodor, whose brother drove 
for a rising young cleric named Hassan Nas- 
rallah, invited him over to his house along 

with about thirty other neighborhood 
friends. The Iranians had assigned Khodor to 
recruit and build a cell in his neighborhood. 
He told them about the Iranian plans and 
how they were going to spearhead the resist- 
ance against the Israeli occupiers. He ex- 
plained Imam Khomeini's teachings and 
stressed both the importance of Islam in 
one's life and resistance to the beguiling 
Great Satan. While some rejected his pitch, 
the majority liked what they heard. This in- 
cluded Sayeed Ali. "It sounded interesting, 
and I was young and dumb," he said later. 

By 1984, American intelligence estimated 
that eight hundred Iranian guardsmen oper- 
ated in Lebanon. Despite the numbers, Iran 
remained cautious about having the Revolu- 
tionary Guard engage in actually fighting, 
leaving that chore to their Lebanese allies. 
Instead, they brought Shia fighters to their 
camps in the Bekaa Valley, where the Re- 
volutionary Guard ran an organized boot 

camp at which they supervised the training 
curriculum. While Sheik Abdullah Barracks 
served as Iran's headquarters, they estab- 
lished three other military training camps. 
There Lebanese were taught the basic skills 
of marksmanship and explosives. In sub- 
sequent courses, the soldiers received more 
sophisticated training on how to destroy en- 
emy tanks. 

The Revolutionary Guard displayed con- 
siderable flexibility to train the new recruits. 
With many of the recruits young students, 
the Iranians held the classes during breaks in 
the school schedule, and the Revolutionary 
Guard tried to accommodate by holding 
classes in Beirut for those who did not have 
enough time between classes to travel all the 
way to the Bekaa. Sayeed Ali attended a tech- 
nical school where he was studying the un- 
likely discipline of interior decorating. He at- 
tended one of the camps about an hour away 
from Baalbek during his summer break. 

Political and religious lessons broke up the 
martial regime. Through Arabic translators, 
Iranian speakers extolled Khomeini or lec- 
tured on religious subjects. Hassan Nasrallah 
frequently came as a guest lecturer, giving 
rousing talks touting the righteousness of 
their struggle. Sayeed Ali became friends 
with Nasrallah and went to his house fre- 
quently. "He was very charismatic and good 
at telling jokes; he was always smiling and 
laughing," Sayeed Ali recalled. 

In addition to Sayeed Ali, Iran recruited 
another more important fallen Nabih Berri 
supporter, a Lebanese chemistry teacher 
turned revolutionary named Hussein al- 
Musawi. After the cantankerous meeting at 
Shamseddine's home, al-Musawi had formed 
his own breakaway group called Islamic 
Amal. Young and idealistic like Sayeed Ali, 
al-Musawi was an ardent supporter of the 
Ayatollah Khomeini, publicly proclaiming, 
"We are the children of Iran." After breaking 

with Berri, al-Musawi fled to his village in 
the Bekaa Valley to establish his coterie. Ac- 
cording to retired CIA officer Robert Baer, 
al-Musawi spearheaded the takeover of the 
Sheik Abdullah Barracks, inviting the guards 

to use it as their base.— 

Acceptance of Iran in Lebanon received a 
boost when the prominent cleric Ayatollah 
Sheik Sayed Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah 
backed the Revolutionary Guard's mission. A 
scholar of considerable renown and a prolific 
writer on Islam, he settled in Beirut's south- 
ern suburbs, where he brought together un- 
der his control a number of humanitarian or- 
ganizations that provided basic services to 
the Shia slums. His power increased when 
the Iraqi government expelled dozens of Le- 
banese theology students in a crackdown on 
Shia radicalism. Many of these flocked to 

Fadlallah and served as his core supporters.— 

Fadlallah welcomed the Iranian Revolu- 
tion and openly endorsed Ayatollah 

Khomeini's Shia activism. "It empowered the 
Shia and gave strength to them," he said. 
After the Israeli invasion, Fadlallah was a 
principal motivator for the Shia resistance, 
and his rhetorical jabs at the U.S. govern- 
ment frequently carried the same vitriol as 

After Israel's invasion, an Iranian delega- 
tion came to Fadlallah's compound in south 
Beirut to meet with the ayatollah. The Irani- 
ans wanted him to lead their Lebanese oper- 
ations. Many of Iran's early supporters 
prayed in his mosque and had been inspired 
by him.— But Sheik Fadlallah refused. His 
religious training stemmed from Najaf, not 
Qom. While he embraced Khomeini's view of 
political Islam, he had no intention of being 
subservient to Iran. They were Arabs, not 
Persians, and the Lebanese struggle should 

be run by Lebanese, he believed. 13 

Sheik Fadlallah's intransigence in oppos- 
ing Iranian leadership of the Shia resistance 

caused considerable tension with the Revolu- 
tionary Guard. He carried too much gravitas 
to purge, so the Iranians maintained an un- 
easy association with him. But American in- 
telligence failed to notice these important 
distinctions and divides. For years cables 
from the embassy in Beirut continued to 
refer to Fadlallah as "Hezbollah's spiritual 
adviser," a characterization that both 
Hezbollah and Fadlallah emphatically 

denied. 14 

The Iranian-backed resistance to Israel 
and the United States began spastically. Fac- 
tions launched uncoordinated and feeble at- 
tacks against the Israeli army around Beirut 
and in south Lebanon. "We fired a lot of am- 
munition and many men were killed or 
wounded without achieving very much," Say- 
eed Ali remarked about the early operations. 

But they struck their first major blow 
against the Israelis on November 11, 1982. At 
seven in the morning, seventeen-year-old 

Ahmed Qassir, a native of the small village of 
Deir Qanun al-Nahr just ten miles from the 
Lebanese city of Tyre, plowed his car into a 
seven-story building that served as a major 
headquarters for the Israeli army in southern 
Lebanon. Qassir had lost several family 
members during a 1978 Israeli incursion into 
southern Lebanon and he wanted revenge. 
The car bomb, packed with explosives and 
cylindrical gas canisters, leveled the build- 
ing. It blew one Israeli soldier out of the fifth 
floor; miraculously, a chair and a refrigerator 
landed around his head and formed a pro- 
tective cocoon that saved him from the tons 
of steel and concrete that descended on top 

of him. 15 Seventy-five other Israeli soldiers 
were not so fortunate, including many of Is- 
rael's elite internal security force, Shin Beit, 
as well as fourteen Arabs who were being in- 
terrogated. Israel declared a day of mourning 
for those killed, and the attack remains one 

of the worst suicide attacks the country ever 


Israel remained oblivious to this new force 
their invasion had unleashed. In the chaos of 
Lebanon, their early attacks, as one Hezbol- 
lah founder recalled, were like "a scuffle of 

camels in the desert." 12 An unknown group, 
Armed Struggle Organization, claimed re- 
sponsibility for the attack.— Hezbollah later 
claimed the bombing in Tyre as its first 
"martyrdom" operation. To avoid retribution 
by Israel against the driver's family, the 
group refrained from announcing the details 
until 1985, and then only after Israelis had 
pulled back from Tyre. That same year, Ira- 
nian supporters erected a memorial in the 
bomber's village, and the family personally 
received from Ayatollah Khomeini a portrait 
of the imam embossed with the emblem of 
the Islamic Republic. 13 

This also marked the first use of what 
would be the hallmark of Hezbollah military 
success: the suicide bomber. Car bombs were 
commonplace in Lebanon during the civil 
war. But the pro-Iranian Shia put a unique 
spin on this Lebanese tradition by putting a 
human behind the wheel. The unique tenets 
of this branch of Islam emphasized martyr- 
dom, and Iran found no shortage of drivers 
willing to exchange their lives for the cause 
and eternal glory. While Israel and the Un- 
ited States condemned these as acts of ter- 
rorism, in truth the attacks were not terror- 
ism. The founders of Hezbollah had devised 
the poor man's smart bomb and aimed it at 
their opponents' ill-prepared military. "If 
Hezbollah had GPS-guided bombs dropped 
from thirty thousand feet, they would not 
need martyrs," said one Lebanese with ties to 
the organization. 

Initially, the pro-Iranian Shia militias re- 
mained a fractured movement. "Everyone 

wanted to be in charge," Sayeed Ali recalled. 
Iran supported multiple groups, including 
Hussein al-Musawi's Islamic Amal, as well as 
other Lebanese splinter groups. A 1984 
American intelligence report provided to De- 
fense Secretary Caspar Weinberger listed ten 
different Iranian-backed Lebanese militias. 
This included the Dawa Party of Lebanon, a 
counterpart to the Iranian-sponsored Dawa 
Parties in Iraq and the Persian Gulf coun- 
tries. The Dawa Party was further subdivided 
into two semi-independent wings: a political 
front called the Muslim Student Union, and 
a military arm, the Jundallah (Soldiers of 
God). Even Islamic Amal had a subgroup 
called the Hussein Suicide Squad, whom al- 
Musawi recruited to execute his martyrdom 
operations. All told, they had fewer than one 
thousand fighters, but as the U.S. intelli- 
gence report acknowledged, they com- 
manded widespread support among the Shia 

The true giant in the burgeoning Shia res- 
istance was a man of only twenty, Imad 
Mugniyah. Born near Tyre in July 1962, the 
oldest of four children, Imad was re- 
membered by friends as a bright boy with 
academic potential. He attended Beirut 
University for one year before dropping out 
to fight in the Lebanese Civil War as a soldier 
in Yasser Arafat's elite unit, Force 19. Young 
and strong with a dark beard and serious 
persona, he possessed the natural gift of a 
combat leader. He was well spoken and 
wholly committed to Islam's struggle against 
Israel. In fact, Sayeed Ali recalled, he spoke 
of nothing else. "Imad Mugniyah was a mas- 
terful organizer and operator. Few of his 
lieutenants were as capable," said former 
CIA director of operations Charles Allen.— 

The Israeli invasion inspired Mugniyah 
too. In July 1982, he took a taxi to Baalbek 
and met with an Iranian Revolutionary 
Guard officer and ethnic Arab named Sheik 

Hussein.— Mugniyah liked the pitch and 
threw all his considerable energy into his 
own organization, the Islamic Jihad Organiz- 
ation. Mugniyah appealed to the Iranians. 
His connections with Arafat and numerous 
Shia leaders made him the indispensable 
man. He opened the door for Iranian influ- 
ence in Lebanon in ways no outsider could. 23 

To Iran, Mugniyah became more than an 
ally; he served as a partner. Iran commis- 
sioned him an officer in the Revolutionary 
Guard and many of his Iranian comrades 
genuinely mourned his death when a car 
bomb in Damascus sent him on into the af- 
terworld in 2008. As Hezbollah's chief milit- 
ary commander for over two decades, 
Mugniyah took on a mythical persona. Israel 
and the United States seemed to attribute 
every guerrilla attack or act of terrorism to 
him, and his hand guided many even in his 
tender years. Few knew him; he hid his true 
identity even from his only son, Mustafa. The 

head of Hamas's operations in Lebanon, 
Osama Hamdan, met him masquerading as a 

stone salesman. 24 

Iran tried to morph these disparate sup- 
porters into a cohesive force. It formed the 
Council of Lebanon, a five-member commit- 
tee of senior Lebanese and Iranian clerics to 
coordinate the religious, political, and milit- 
ary activities of the radical pro-Iranian Shia 
groups. The Revolutionary Guard centralized 
all military training at Baalbek. On June 27, 
1983, the two main groups— al-Musawi's 
Islamic Amal and Mugniyah's Islamic Jihad 
Organization— were both placed under the 
direct control of Iranian officers. By 1984, 
American intelligence began reporting a new 
umbrella name for the pro-Iranian militias: 
Hezbollah, or Party of God. 

ran's growing role in Lebanon did not 

escape the attention of the United States. 
The head of America's top eavesdropping 
agency, the National Security Agency, Willi- 
am Odom, made a swing through the Middle 
East in early April 1983, which included a 
stop in Beirut to talk to the CIA station chief 
and the marines at the airport. A gunnery 
sergeant assigned to small signal collection 
from the marines' radio reconnaissance com- 
pany gave Odom some of the communica- 
tions they had intercepted between Sheik 
Abdullah Barracks and the Iranian consulate 
in Beirut. "The Iranian presence was grow- 
ing," Odom recalled of these messages. "They 
were actually struggling to find enough Arab- 
ic speakers to meet their requirements." 25 

Odom did not share the Reagan adminis- 
tration's optimism about Lebanon. He came 
away from Beirut deeply disturbed. The 
rising attacks on the marines and the 

growing influence of Iran among the Shia 
population did not bode well for America, he 
thought. "The mere fact that terrorists have 
made attempts against the Marines is a bad 
sign to come," he wrote to Army Chief of 
Staff Edward Meyer upon his return to 

Just days after Odom's visit, on April 17, 
1983, a green Mercedes swerved in and out 
of the congested Beirut traffic, barely miss- 
ing a dump truck and a mother and her two 
children. The driver accelerated, then quickly 
turned up a driveway, passing nonplussed 
guards, and headed straight toward the front 
of the seven-story American embassy. The 
car jumped up the front stoop and smashed 
into the front door of the lobby and ex- 
ploded. 22 The blast sheered off the entire 
front of the building, vaporizing eleven Le- 
banese bodyguards and their leader, Ser- 
geant First Class Terry Gilden of the U.S. 
Army Special Forces, who happened to be 

milling about under the front portico waiting 

to take the ambassador to an appointment.— 
Marines arrived from the airport to provide 
security for rescue workers digging through 
the rubble to recover the dead and wounded. 
The final tally stood at sixty-three dead, in- 
cluding seventeen Americans. 29 Most alarm- 
ing, the bomber had cleaned out America's 
entire spy operation within Lebanon. Seven 
of those killed had been CIA employees, in- 
cluding the chief of station, his deputy, and 
the head of all the agency's Middle East op- 
erations, Robert Ames, who happened to be 
visiting the embassy and having an ill-timed 
lunch meeting with the CIA's staff when the 
bomb went off. Few intelligence officers 
knew as much about the Middle East as did 
Ames. Both William Casey and the White 
House held him in high regard. "If there ever 
was someone irreplaceable, it was Bob," said 
one retired CIA agent who knew Ames well. 

Odom's NSA pored over intercepted com- 
munications trying to find the culprits. A few 
nuggets between the Iranian foreign ministry 
and its embassies in Beirut and Damascus 
had indicated a vague goal of striking at 
American interests in Lebanon. While highly 
circumstantial, NSA analysts concluded it 
could only have referred to the embassy at- 
tack. 32 Odom agreed. "It seemed the logical 

The CIA rushed a new batch of case of- 
ficers to the embassy. This included one of 
the few Arabic-speaking women, deploying 
to Beirut on her first assignment with the 
agency. The new chief of station was a thin, 
glum-looking case officer with limited field 
experience who had spent much of his career 
in headquarters, William Buckley. Casey had 
pressured the reticent Buckley into taking 
the assignment. The director liked Buckley, 
and the bench of senior CIA officers with 
Middle East expertise was not that deep. The 

marine officers had a mixed view of him. Co- 
lonel Geraghty thought highly of him, and 
the two developed a good rapport, but many 
junior officers found the CIA officer con- 
ceited. Buckley did have one serious flaw for 
an intelligence officer: he could not remem- 
ber people's names. As an aide-memoire, he 
kept a list of all the CIA officers who worked 
for him in his shirt pocket. 

In early August 1983, the marines went on 
full alert after intercepted radio communica- 
tions and a Shia human source both con- 
firmed an imminent attack by militias loyal 

to Iran. 31 As the fighting intensified around 
Suq al-Gharb, marines repeatedly intercep- 
ted tactical discussions in Farsi. To help 
translate, one of the five Persian linguists in 
the entire marine corps arrived in Lebanon 
to help decipher the chatter. 

Robert McFarlane reported Iran's involve- 
ment back to the White House on September 
9. The attacks on Aoun's 8th Brigade, he 

said, were not the work of Lebanese, but of a 
nefarious combination of Iranian and Syrian 
forces. The United States could not stand by 
while these countries sent in troops to inter- 
fere and oppose the legitimate Lebanese gov- 
ernment. McFarlane noticed the irony in his 
stand. The United States too stood guilty of 
much the same offense: an outside country 
with military forces backing one faction in 
the civil war. 

While hardly the external invasion McFar- 
lane perceived, the Syrian army did provide 
an umbrella for the polyglot of opponents of 
the Phalange-backed government. Druze, 
Shia, and Palestinians all battled General 
Aoun's forces in the hills around Suq al- 
Gharb. The Revolutionary Guard lurked in 
the background, offering advice for their al- 
lies. With the United States actively aiding 
the Lebanese army, the visible symbol of the 
U.S. military, the U.S. Marines, found 

themselves the target of all those opposing 
Gemayel and the Israelis. 

In Ayatollah Khomeini's mind, America 
continued to spearhead the assault against 
the revolution. If America aided Iraq, he saw 
no reason why American marines in Leban- 
on should be immune from retaliation. It 
was all intertwined, each a battle in the lar- 
ger struggle between the Islamic Republic 
and the United States: righteousness versus 
wickedness. While the Druze shelled the 
marines, the Iranian militia turned to their 
poor man's precision-guided weapon. 

On September l, 1983, a Revolutionary 
Guard officer met with Hussein al-Musawi at 
Sheik Abdullah Barracks. Al-Musawi wanted 
to blow something up— "special targets," as 
he phrased it. He remained undecided about 
just exactly what should be destroyed, but he 
leaned toward Christian Phalange sites in 
East Beirut. The Iranian dutifully reported 
this back to Ambassador Mohtashemi in 

Damascus, who in turn relayed it back to 
Tehran. As the fighting raged around Suq al- 
Gharb, and McFarlane and Stiner pressed 
Geraghty for air strikes, al-Musawi ap- 
proached the Iranians again. This time he 
wanted help in obtaining an eye-popping 
thirty tons of TNT and plastic explosives. 

This got Mohtashemi's attention. He asked 
al-Musawi to come to Damascus and explain 
what he intended to do with all that lethality. 
On September 22, an al-Musawi relative, 
Sayed, and the brother of the head of the 
Hussein Suicide Squad, Abu Haydan 
Musawi, drove to the Syrian capital and met 
with the ambassador in his office at the Ira- 
nian embassy. The Lebanese explained that 
while they had no specific target in mind, 
they wanted to undertake a dramatic attack 
against their enemies— the Americans, the 
Phalange, or the Lebanese army. 

Mohtashemi listened intently. "Yes, you 
should certainly concentrate your operations 

as much as possible on the U.S. forces, 
Phalange, or the Lebanese army," he replied. 
Then the Iranian ambassador offered up a 
suggestion: "You should undertake an ex- 
traordinary operation against the U.S. 

Sayed liked the idea. It had not occurred to 
him, but a blow against the marines would 
undermine the entire American and Israeli 
designs in Lebanon. Mohtashemi instructed 
him to make sure that he coordinated his ac- 
tions with Hezbollah, which meant Imad 

"Perhaps when this great mission is over, 
we could come to Iran," Sayed asked ex- 
citedly. "Maybe we could even meet with 
Ayatollah Khomeini?" 32 

"You would be most welcome," Mo- 
htashemi said, rising to shake Sayed's hand 
as he bid him good luck. "But the Iranian 
government cannot officially invite you. It is 
best we keep our distance publicly." 

Two days later, Ambassador Mohtashemi 
called Tehran and reported his meeting to 
the Iranian foreign minister. Al-Musawi's 
proposal was debated by the senior official 
and Ayatollah Khomeini likely gave final ap- 
proval for the attack. 

The word came back to Mohtashemi ap- 
proving "a spectacular action against the 
U.S. Marines." 

On October 18, Abu Haydan Musawi and 
twenty members of the Hussein Suicide 
Squad arrived in Beirut from Baalbek. Iran 
failed to provide enough explosives, so Abu 
Haydan Musawi met with a Palestinian con- 
tact about obtaining four thousand more 
pounds of explosives. The day following, 
three trucks showed up in front of the Islam- 
ic Amal office in Beirut loaded with his re- 
quisition. This amount of explosives far ex- 
ceeded what could be packed inside a Le- 
banese car bomb, and the Musawi clan 

seemed ready to make good on its promise of 
a spectacular show. 

A few days later, Mohtashemi made a tele- 
phone call to Baalbek. Speaking with a Re- 
volutionary Guard officer, he passed on the 
order to proceed with the attack. In addition 
to the marines, however, he wanted the 
French peacekeepers attacked too. France 
had just sold Iraq advanced attack aircraft, 
the Super Etendards, and even deployed a 
military team to train and provide tactical 
advice to the Iraqi pilots. The government in 
Iran took a dim view of this abrogation of 
France's neutrality, and French troops in Le- 
banon were now fair game. Islamic Amal 
agreed, in part because French aircraft had 
recently bombed Muslim forces in response 
to mortar attacks on their troops. 

The Hussein Suicide Squad outfitted at 
least two trucks with thousands of pounds of 
explosives and tanks of compressed gas to 
enhance the destructive power of the bomb. 

The detonators were connected near the 
steering wheel for easy access by drivers, en- 
abling them to ignite their cargo even if 

The likely man chosen for the attack on 
the marines was a familiar acquaintance of 
Sayeed Ali's, Assi Zeineddine. His parents 
lived two buildings down from his, close 
enough that he could throw a rock to their 
apartment window from his balcony. Unlike 
Sayeed Ali, Zeineddine came from wealth. 
His father owned a string of small businesses 
and rental apartments. In school, Sayeed Ali 
recalled Zeineddine as a loud teenager with a 
funny, sarcastic sense of humor. How he was 
chosen remains unclear. Sayeed Ali does not 
recall that he was that much more devout 
than any of the other young men who joined 
Hezbollah. But as planning began for the 
martyrdom operations, Zeineddine's hand- 
lers ensured that he stayed segregated from 

the other soldiers. 33 

American intelligence picked up on the 
conversations between the Iranian embassy 
in Damascus and the home office in Tehran. 
On September 27, the NSA issued a message 
that outlined the impending attack, a mes- 
sage that included the Iranian ambassador's 
own damning words of "take a spectacular 
action against the U.S. Marines." Unfortu- 
nately, the message never made it outside of 
a very limited intelligence channel, and those 
who did not have a "need to know" included 
Colonel Geraghty and those up the marine's 
chain of command. On October 25, the dir- 
ector of naval intelligence raced up to the of- 
fice of the chief of naval operations carrying 
the late September NSA message that out- 
lined the impending attack. Unfortunately, 
this happened to be two days after the Hus- 
sein Suicide Squad had carried out its mis- 
sion. 34 

t began as a typical Beirut morning. The 
sunrise dawned bright and beautiful. Since it 
was Sunday, the marines surrounding the 
airport had a more leisurely day scheduled. 
They remained a bit longer in their sleeping 
bags, grabbing an extra half hour of rest, and 
the normal six a.m. staff meeting at the bat- 
talion headquarters had been canceled. The 
day before, on October 22, 1983, a country- 
western band had entertained the marines 
and pizza had been flown in from a navy ship 
off the Lebanese coast. The marines occupied 
three buildings just off the main four-lane 
road leading to the Beirut airport terminal. 
The band played in front of the large four- 
story building that housed the infantry bat- 
talion headquarters. Elevated off the ground 
floor by large columns, with an open atrium, 
the building had originally held the office for 
the Lebanese aviation administration. Now a 
bombed-out shell, the large plate-glass win- 
dows that had adorned the upper floors had 

been replaced by plastic sheets and plywood 
and reinforced by thousands of sandbags. 
But the concrete and steel structure re- 
mained solid and provided a modicum of 
protection against gunfire and mortars, and 
the senior marine commander, Colonel 
Timothy Geraghty, agreed to allow his subor- 
dinate battalion to concentrate his large ad- 
ministrative support unit in this one struc- 
ture. Now some 350 marines slept in its 
dusty rooms beneath a large overhanging 
roof that protected them from the rain and 
the Mediterranean sun. 

The previous night, stray bullets had im- 
pacted the concert side of the building and a 
few rockets landed close by. The marines 
went to a higher level of alert, but it was a 
quiet night for a country in the middle of a 
civil war. And, undeterred, one marine went 
for a jog that morning, earning a rebuke 
from the sergeant of the guard, Steven 

Around five in the morning on October 23, 
a yellow Mercedes stake-bed truck with no 
lights on pulled into the large open public 
parking lot south of the headquarters build- 
ing and just east of the main thoroughfare to 
the Beirut airport terminal. A single three- 
foot-high fence of circular concertina wire 
separated the parking lot and the city at large 
from the battalion headquarters building. 
The truck circled once and then left. Lance 
Corporal Eddie DiFranco noticed it from his 
guard post, but these trucks were common 
enough around the airport that he paid it no 
further attention and did not believe it war- 
ranted reporting to Sergeant Russell. An 
hour later, another sentry noticed a white 
Mercedes car drive by. The driver reached 
across the passenger seat and snapped a 
photograph of the marine compound. 

At 6:22 a.m., DiFranco heard the sound of 
a revving engine. He looked over to the park- 
ing lot just as a speeding yellow Mercedes 

truck swerved abruptly and crashed through 
the concertina wire fence, accelerating as it 
headed directly toward the battalion 
headquarters seventy yards away. To avoid 
accidental discharges, Colonel Geraghty had 
forbidden the sentries from carrying loaded 
rifles. Realizing what was about to occur, 
DiFranco struggled to unsling his rifle from 
his shoulder and load a magazine into his 
M-16. There just wasn't time. The large truck 
barreled past him; the driver, a Caucasian 
with a bushy mustache and his hands grip- 
ping the steering wheel, looked down at 
DiFranco with a wild smile across his face. 
The truck went through an open gate in a 
chain-link fence and through an eight-foot 
gap between two large black sewer pipes 

placed on the ground. 35 

In his small sandbagged booth at the en- 
trance to the headquarters building, Ser- 
geant Russell had his back turned, talking 
with the wayward jogger and with the static 

hiss of multiple radios next to his ear. He 
heard a crackling or popping sound as the 
truck ran over the concertina wire. When he 
heard the growing noise of a loud diesel en- 
gine, he turned around to see the front of a 

large truck headed straight for him. 3 ^ 

Russell ran through the open courtyard, 
repeatedly yelling: "Hit the deck! Hit the 
deck!" He glanced over his shoulder just as 
the yellow Mercedes smashed through his 
guard shack, scattering sandbags and wood 
into the lobby. The truck came to rest in the 
middle of the atrium, its front windshield 
smashed in. For several long seconds 
everything was quiet. Still running and 
telling marines to "get down," Russell looked 
back at the truck to see a bright orange-yel- 
low flash at the front of the vehicle as the 
equivalent of twenty thousand pounds of 
high explosives, enhanced by canisters of 

flammable gas, detonated. 32 A massive wave 
of heat and the powerful concussion blew 

him fifteen feet into the air, searing his flesh 
and twisting him around like a rag doll. 

The explosion traveled straight up the 
open center of the building, forming an in- 
verted V shape in the roof as it forced the en- 
tire building up off its foundation. The struc- 
ture then collapsed in on itself like an accor- 
dion, reducing all four floors to a single level 
in a massive mushroom cloud visible across 
the city. The FBI later determined the type of 
explosives used when residue was found on a 
piece of underwear— all that remained of a 
marine who happened to be exercising in a 

small gym near where the truck stopped. 

A few lucky marines survived. Some sleep- 
ing on the roof managed to stay alive by rid- 
ing down on top of the collapsing building. 
The battalion commander, Lieutenant Col- 
onel Howard Gerlach, was blown out of his 
office and came to on the ground next to the 
heap of rubble that had been his headquar- 
ters. A fine powder of gray dust of pulverized 

concrete covered everything. Chunks of hu- 
man flesh were scattered around the marine 
compound. One body, still in its sleeping 
bag, had been tossed into a tree. One marine 
rescuer nearly threw up when his boot 

kicked something spongy. 33 He looked down 
to see a severed hand, palm up with a wed- 
ding ring still on its finger. Paper— letters, 
technical manuals, pornography— slowly 
rained down around the ruins as the dazed 
survivors and Lebanese rescuers struggled to 
pull the injured from the rubble. 

Geraghty was in his second-floor office a 
short distance away, just across a wooded 
outcrop. The blast blew out all the windows 
of his building, sending fragments flying 
about the offices. He rushed downstairs and 
went around behind his headquarters. He 
looked in the direction of his subordinate 
battalion's headquarters. As the fog of dust 
and debris cleared, Geraghty saw that the en- 
tire building had disappeared. He 

immediately got on a secure phone and 
called the Sixth Fleet commander. Losses 

were going to be heavy, he advised. 42 

Simultaneously, another truck bomb hit 
the nearby French military headquarters. 
The French paratroopers had only recently 
moved into a nine-story headquarters build- 
ing along the seaside in West Beirut, which 
they'd hoped would afford better protection. 
French sentries opened fire on the approach- 
ing truck, perhaps wounding the driver be- 
fore his deadly cargo detonated. 41 In that one 
morning, 241 American servicemen and 58 
French paratroopers died. For the U.S. Mar- 
ine Corps, it was the worst loss of life in a 
single day since Iwo Jima in 1945. 

After October 23, no one ever again saw 
Assi Zeineddine. His family refused to talk 
about their son's whereabouts or his involve- 
ment. But within his close-knit neighbor- 
hood, no one doubted who had caused the 
explosions that rocked Beirut that Sunday 

morning. His parents suddenly traveled fre- 
quently to Iran, where officials treated them 
as honored guests. This included an audi- 
ence with Ayatollah Khomeini. 


The American Hamlet 

J\.t two in the morning of October 23, 

1983, Robert McFarlane's secure phone 
rang. On the other end, a military officer in 
the White House Situation Room passed on 
news of the attack on the marines in Beirut 
to the new national security adviser. Reagan, 
George Shultz, and Robert McFarlane were 
in Augusta, Georgia, with the president stay- 
ing at the Eisenhower cottage on the grounds 
of the venerable country club that is home to 
the Masters golf tournament. Reagan inten- 
ded for this to be a relaxing weekend away 
from Washington. It had been anything but. 
The night before, he had stayed up late dis- 
cussing a military intervention in the tiny 
Caribbean nation of Grenada. Even his golf 

outing had been disrupted at the sixteenth 
hole when a deranged man took several host- 
ages in the clubhouse and demanded to 
speak with the president. Reagan obliged, 
only to have the man hang up on him. For- 
tunately, the drama ended with the man ap- 
prehended and no one injured. 

McFarlane dressed and went over to the 
Eisenhower cottage, where the president 
greeted him dressed in his pajamas, covered 
in a bathrobe, and wearing open-toed slip- 
pers. McFarlane went over the scant details. 
First reports confirmed at least seventy mar- 
ines killed and another hundred wounded. 
These numbers would certainly rise, he told 
both the president and Shultz. The president 
looked shocked and then angry. "Those sons 

of bitches. Let's find a way to go after them." 1 
The presidential entourage packed up and 
immediately flew back to Washington. 

At nine the next morning, Reagan met 
with his senior advisers in the Situation 

Room. Caspar Weinberger gave a quick up- 
date. "A truck drove into the building kami- 
kaze style. Casualties were now 111 dead and 
115 wounded; these numbers would certainly 
rise." Secretary Weinberger continued ex- 
plaining that another truck hit the French; 
their losses stood then at 75 killed and 
wounded. 2 

"The Iranians probably were behind it," 
added CIA Deputy Director John McMahon, 
who was filling in for William Casey. "They 
had bombed the embassy in April." 

"Can't we do anything to Iran?" queried 
the president. 

Shultz responded, "We need a big intelli- 
gence effort to find out who was behind it." 

But Weinberger cautioned that they 
needed to make sure of the right target be- 
fore they started bombing. "It might make us 
all feel better," he said, "but that would not 
punish those responsible." He then 

recommended again that the marines be 
withdrawn to ships offshore to reduce their 

Shultz strongly objected. "To withdraw 
now would undermine our entire policy," he 
argued. "It would be disastrous for American 
prestige." He recommended a new 
presidential-led diplomatic effort for 

The president and his advisers reconvened 
back in the Situation Room in the White 
House basement at four p.m. This time, 
McMahon produced hard evidence of Irani- 
an culpability. Someone had called a news 
agency in Beirut claiming that the attack had 
been conducted by an Amal splinter group 
with close ties to Iran, headed by Hussein al- 
Musawi, McMahon said. He then offered a 
detailed narrative of the timeline leading up 
to the attack, provided to the CIA by a Le- 
banese security official with close ties to al- 
Musawi. His information was impressive, 

detailing their movements from Baalbek to 
Beirut and their preparations for the attack. 
The agent had even witnessed three pickup 
trucks loaded with explosives in front of al- 
Musawi's office in south Beirut. McMahon 
continued by laying out for the president a 
string of communications intercepts from 
Iran to its embassy in Damascus directing it 
to "destroy U.S. targets." All pointed to direct 
Iranian involvement with al-Musawi. 
McMahon closed his brief by adding that 
French intelligence sources reported that the 
Iranians had evacuated their Beirut consu- 
late immediately after the bombing, anticip- 
ating a reprisal attack. McMahon's informa- 
tion was as close to conclusive evidence as 
you were ever going to find in the murky 
world of intelligence. 

"We need to show resolve," Shultz stated 
empathically after McMahon's presentation. 
"We need to take action against those who 

committed this atrocity and strengthen the 
Lebanese government." 

Weinberger again cautioned that they 
should not take military action just for re- 
venge. "It must be directed at those who per- 
petrated the act," he countered. 

After listening to the two antagonists 
squabble, Reagan told the Joint Chiefs to 
plan for a retaliatory air strike. Clearly 
moved by the enormity of the calamity, the 
president added, "We must show that the 
cause was worth dying for." Reagan directed 
Marine Commandant P. X. Kelley to go to 
Beirut to see what further steps needed to be 
taken to protect the marines. As Kelley got 
up from the table to leave the Situation 
Room, Reagan put his arm around the gen- 
eral's broad shoulders and said warmly, 
"Vaya con Dios-Go with God." 3 

With 241 American servicemen dead, mil- 
itary retaliation should have been a foregone 
conclusion. But sharp divisions emerged 

within the administration on this issue from 
that first meeting in the White House. 
McFarlane had wanted military intervention 
even before the attack. Now he and his 
deputy, Vice Admiral John Poindexter, 
pressed for military action. Ronald Reagan 
clearly favored a response. In a nationally 
televised address on October 27, he looked 
into the camera and told the nation: "We 
have strong circumstantial evidence that the 
attack on the marines was directed by terror- 
ists who used the same method to destroy 
our embassy in Beirut. Those who directed 
this atrocity must be dealt justice, and they 

will be." 4 The next day, he minced no words 
in his written order to Secretary Weinberger 
and the military: "Subject to reasonable con- 
firmation of the locations of suitable targets 
used by elements responsible for the October 
23 bombing; attack those targets decisively, 
if possible, in coordination with the 

French." 5 

But across the river at the Pentagon, those 
charged with carrying out the president's or- 
der were less enthusiastic about using force. 
Both Weinberger and General John Vessey 
had opposed the deployment of the marines, 
and now with Lebanon deteriorating and no 
diplomatic solution forthcoming, they 
wanted the marines out of the quagmire. 
Vessey, a decorated soldier who'd come up 
through the ranks as an enlisted man, had 
seen his share of killing, and he had little use 
for McFarlane, who seemed overeager to 
drag the United States into the Lebanese 
war. Weinberger agreed. "It is easy to kill 
people, and that might make some people 
feel good, but military force must have a pur- 
pose, to achieve some end," Weinberger said 
in 1994. "We never had the fidelity on who 

perpetrated that horrendous act."- 

"Weinberger and Vessey were charter 
members of the Vietnam never again club," 
recalled Poindexter. "It was not just 

Lebanon; they opposed every military opera- 
tion during that time. Cap wanted a strong 
military, but never wanted to use it." Both 
Poin dexter and McFarlane objected to the 
numerous excuses offered by Weinberger 
and Vessey: there was no smoking gun; 
Sheik Abdullah Barracks sat too close to 
some of the most important Roman ruins, 
and they might get hit by mistake; if they 
used cruise missiles one might be a dud and 
then fall into Syrian hands and compromise 
its highly classified guidance system. "There 
was always a reason why we should not do 
something," recalled Poindexter. 2 

While Vessey unenthusiastically prepared 
a military plan for reprisal, an admiral with- 
in the U.S. Navy pressed forward with his 
own bombing scheme for Lebanon. The de- 
veloper of this secretive plan was the imagin- 
ative surface warfare officer Vice Admiral 
James "Ace" Lyons. Stout, with thinning 
hair, Lyons lacked tact and voiced his 

opinions frequently and stridently, especially 
when dealing with superiors he viewed as 
fools. Lyons wanted to clobber Baalbek. He 
had been handed the NSA intercept that 
linked Iran to the attack on the marines just 
two days after the bombing. "If there ever 
was a 24-karat gold document, this was it," 
he said later. "This was not something from 
the third cousin of the fourth wife of 
Muhammad the taxicab driver. "- 

A few days after the bombing, Lyons went 
out to Langley and had lunch with CIA De- 
puty Director John McMahon and the head 
intelligence analyst, Robert Gates. Lyons had 
developed surreptitious relationships with 
Casey and Poindexter at the National Secur- 
ity Council. Both men shared Lyons's in- 
your-face approach to dealing with the Soviet 
military, and the navy admiral was certainly 
not part of the "Vietnam never again" crowd. 

That afternoon, the CIA passed to Lyons 
the intelligence it had amassed that clearly 

linked Iranian agents at Sheik Abdullah Bar- 
racks with those who'd attacked the marines. 
"Whatever I give you," one of the men told 
Lyons, "you can't give it to the Joint Staff, 
because I don't want to read about it in the 
Post." That suited Lyons just fine, as he had 
no intention of working through Vessey or 
the Joint Staff. 

In his offices in the Pentagon, Lyons de- 
veloped a navy-only plan. Eight aircraft 
bombers would pulverize Sheik Abdullah 
Barracks. As Lyons suspected the Soviets had 
broken the navy's communications code 
(which they had, thanks to the Walker spy 
ring), he had his plan hand couriered out to a 
naval task force off Lebanon. In doing so, Ly- 
ons bypassed the normal chain of command, 
which ran through Army General Bernie 
Rodgers at European Command and his 
deputy who handled Lebanon operations, Air 
Force General Richard Lawson. 

In the deep blue waters off the coast of Le- 
banon, Rear Admiral Jerry O. Tuttle com- 
manded the carrier battle group poised to 
strike back at al-Musawi and Iran. In his 
naval carrier, Tuttle won the deserved repu- 
tation as an aggressive, imaginative, and pro- 
fane commander. He referred to himself as 

"S.L.U.F.-short little ugly fucker." 9 He was 
also smart and brought computers into the 
navy's command system, including imple- 
menting the first global position locator that 
displayed every ship's location in near real 
time, called JOTS, which stood for joint op- 
erational tactical system, but everyone in the 
service simply called it "Jerry O. Turtle's sys- 
tem." Tuttle refined Lyons's plan, adding a 
few more planes as insurance. As his pilots 
went into high alert planning the attack, 
Turtle's boss in Stuttgart remained unaware 
of the unilateral action, although Lyons 
claimed to have sent a briefing team to talk 
with Lawson. 

With his plan in the hands of Turtle, the 
chief of naval operations, Admiral Jim 
Watkins, told Lyons to go down and brief 
General Vessey. The chairman was livid at 
Lyons's end run around Rodgers and 
ordered Lyons to turn over all the informa- 
tion he'd received from the CIA to the Joint 
Staff and the DIA. 

"I can't do that because of the agreement I 
made with CIA," Lyons replied. This re- 
sponse did not go over well with Vessey or, 
later, Weinberger. 

On Sunday, November 6, General Vessey 
appeared on Meet the Press. When pushed 
about who had been behind the attack and 
his view on retaliation, the chairman de- 
murred despite knowing that the intelligence 
reports pointed to Iran and its Lebanese al- 
lies. "I really don't know who did it. I wish I 
did," he told New York Times correspondent 
Richard Halloran. On retaliation, he refused 
to be pinned down about any plans for it, 

other than to say, "When American service- 
men are killed and killed in any numbers, my 
gut reaction is to retaliate."— 

The next day, Reagan met again with Ves- 
sey and other senior officers about a military 
response. The president was leaving the fol- 
lowing day for a week in Asia, and they 
needed to decide whether to strike before or 
after his return. Vessey briefed the president 
that European Command, the unified com- 
mand that had responsibility for Lebanon, 
had developed a list of sixteen targets, all 
demonstrably hostile to the multinational 
force. This included every actor but the 
Christians: Iranian, Syrian, Druze, Palestini- 
an, and Shia. The targets included Baalbek 
and several other Iranian surrogate bases, 
referred to by Weinberger on the three-by- 
five sheets of paper that he scribbled his 
notes on as "Syrian terrorist camps." The 
president seemed convinced by the evidence 
about who had attacked the marines and 

French paratroopers, but he agreed to meet 
again the next day just before boarding the 

That afternoon, a flurry of calls ensued 
among all the principals: McFarlane called 
Weinberger advocating bombing now; Ves- 
sey called Weinberger expressing doubts 
about the intelligence linking Baalbek with 
the perpetrators; Weinberger told McMahon 
at the CIA about the chairman's concerns. 
The CIA had no reservations about who had 
been behind the attack. 

On November 8, Reagan met yet again 
with his advisers before leaving for Asia. 
Gathering in the Red Room of the White 
House, both Vessey and Weinberger sugges- 
ted they hold off until the president re- 
turned, which would allow them to collect 
more information on Baalbek. Reagan 
agreed to take up the issue upon his return 
from Japan and South Korea. But the presid- 
ent seemed perplexed by Weinberger's 

reticence. After giving a farewell speech in 
the East Room, Reagan turned to the secret- 
ary. "Cap, I thought you were planning on 
bombing the camp?" There is no record of 
Weinberger's response. 

With the president gone, meetings contin- 
ued in Washington on the retaliatory strike. 
Vessey updated the proposed targets in the 
Bekaa Valley and agreed to cooperate with 
the French military on any reprisals. Wein- 
berger continued to balk at any reprisal: 
"Need better intelligence on enemy targets," 
he wrote in his notes after one White House 

This mantra continued after Reagan re- 
turned on November 14. The military was 
ready, Vessey told the president, but it risked 
losing aircraft to Syrian antiaircraft batteries, 
and retaliating against them risked expand- 
ing the conflict, with the marines at the air- 
port likely to bear the brunt of Syrian retali- 
ation. Weinberger again pressed that they 

needed better intelligence before attacking. 
Once again any strike was placed on hold. 
"We have some additional intelligence," 
Reagan wrote in his diary, "but still not 
enough to order a strike." 

The next day, Reagan met again with his 
military advisers. This time, the gruff CIA 
director, William Casey, tried to undercut 
Weinberger's hand-wringing by presenting 
strong evidence of the role of Sheik Abdullah 
Barracks as a base for the planning and the 
attack on the marines. He also linked the op- 
eratives with another nearby base in the 
Bekaa Valley three miles from the Syrian 
border at the town of Nabi Chit. Weinberger 
responded by adding a new wrinkle: there 
might be some Lebanese army soldiers still 
at Sheik Abdullah Barracks. They needed to 
make certain they were gone before 

While Reagan's gut reaction had been a 
military strike, now Vessey and Weinberger's 

qualms came out of the president's mouth. 
He told the assemblage that he wanted to 
make sure that they could link the target dir- 
ectly to those responsible. A mistake could 
exacerbate the Lebanese crisis. Once again, 
nothing was decided; Casey agreed to look 
again at the CIA's sources and brief them 
again the next day. 

That evening the Israelis rendered one tar- 
get moot when its aircraft pounded the Shia 
base at Nabi Chit. Begin had no reservations 
about its links to those who had attacked 
them. Less than two weeks earlier, a green 
Chevrolet truck driven by a twenty-year-old 
Shia had crashed through the main gate of 
the Israeli headquarters in Tyre. "He looked 
like a nice boy," said one Israeli soldier on 
duty near the entrance. Unlike the American 
marines, the Israeli sentries had loaded 
weapons; they opened fire, wounding the 
driver. He detonated eight hundred to one 
thousand pounds of explosives, collapsing 

the building and killing thirty-nine soldiers. 
For the third time in less than two weeks, the 
Islamic Amal and its deadly Hussein Suicide 
Squad had used the ultimate precision- 
guided weapon to deal a deadly blow to its 
enemies. Unlike Washington, Israel did not 
deliberate endlessly on the wisdom of re- 
sponding. Four warplanes swooped down on 
the base at Nabi Chit. They bombed three 
buildings in the training camp and a nearby 
ammunition dump. Perhaps thirty Shia 
fighters died, with fifty more injured, includ- 
ing five Iranian advisers. 11 Hussein al- 
Musawi nearly found himself in this statistic. 
He had left the camp just two days earlier to 
see his parents in Beirut. 

A routine rotation of aircraft carriers in 
the eastern Mediterranean meant that Turtle 
now had two of these mighty symbols of 
American military power with more than 150 
planes to avenge the marines. Turtle expan- 
ded his plan, now using twelve attack aircraft 

to bomb Sheik Abdullah Barracks and two 
other bases, supported by electric jammers 
and fighter interceptors. On November 15, 
his French counterpart, who commanded the 
much smaller carrier Clemenceau, flew over 
to see him, carrying a letter authorizing him 
to conduct a joint strike with the Americans. 
Tuttle agreed, and the two staffs developed a 
plan to divide up the targets around Baalbek, 
with the heavier load falling to the more cap- 
able American aviators. The French wanted 
to carry out the attack in forty-eight hours, 
on November 17. Tuttle wished the United 
States showed the same bloodlust for re- 
venge as the Israelis, but he cautioned the 
French admiral that he had yet to receive any 
order to attack. His hands were tied until the 
Pentagon cleared his pilots hot. 

On November 16, Reagan and his advisers 
reconvened in the Oval Office. After going 
over intelligence about the Israeli air attack, 
Casey rebuffed Weinberger's concerns about 

Sheik Abdullah Barracks. Since the marine 
barracks bombing, the CIA had doubled its 
staff at the Beirut embassy to twenty-two. 
They now had a source within the com- 
pound, and he confirmed it was an exclus- 
ively Iranian military site with no civilians. 
Casey recommended hitting it. Weinberger 
still remained unconvinced. 

What President Reagan decided that day 
remains mired in controversy. McFarlane 
left the Oval Office convinced that the pres- 
ident had authorized the attack in conjunc- 
tion with the French. He later regretted not 
getting the order in writing, but he had no 
doubt about the president's intentions agree- 
ing with Casey's and McFarlane's recom- 
mendation. But Weinberger recalled the 
meeting ending differently; he received no 
such directive from Reagan. His note from 
that meeting confirms his recollection: "Con- 
cluded we should get more intelligence."— It 
was not the first time people had left a 

meeting with the president uncertain of how 
Reagan had ruled. Reagan hated personal 
confrontations, and passions were growing 
heated with each delay in the air strikes. 

What is known is that, later that day, Ves- 
sey met with Weinberger and said that "they 
were going final with the Lebanon targets," 
meaning that the U.S. military was ready to 
strike. The defense secretary also received a 
call from his French counterpart, who ex- 
pressed Paris's eagerness to conduct a joint 
attack with the Americans. If Reagan did or- 
der the attack and Weinberger wanted it re- 
versed, the defense secretary never spoke 
with the president after the NSC meeting to 

express his reservations. 13 Despite the ad- 
vance readiness of the U.S. military, no ex- 
ecute order for Admiral Tuttle ever left the 

Early the next morning, November 17, 
McFarlane called the National Military Com- 
mand Center to find out how the air attack 

had gone, which he assumed had been car- 
ried out at first light in Lebanon. "The secret- 
ary ordered a stand-down," the military of- 
ficer on the other end said. 

McFarlane was livid. He called Weinberger 
and asked, "Why didn't they execute the at- 
tack?" According to McFarlane, the defense 
secretary replied, "I did not think the time 
was right to strike." After Reagan arrived in 
the Oval Office, McFarlane walked in and 
told the president that Secretary Weinberger 
had not ordered the attack. Reagan was vis- 
ibly angry, McFarlane recalled. He pounded 
his fist on the massive oak desk. 

"You need to do something, Mr. President. 
You can't have a cabinet official disregarding 
your orders!" McFarlane added 

As Weinberger headed to the Pentagon 
that morning, his military assistant, Major 
General Colin Powell, called him in his car, 
letting him know French defense minister 

Charles Hernu wanted to talk to him imme- 
diately regarding the air strike in Lebanon. 
When he arrived at his office, Weinberger 
conferred with General Vessey, who told the 
secretary that the French intended to strike 
within an hour, but the original plan called 
for a joint U.S. -French strike. Without U.S. 
aircraft, they could hit only two targets at 

Weinberger then called Hernu in Paris. 
The French minister said his forces were 
ready to strike. "We could delay for sixty-five 
minutes," he said, "if the Americans wanted 
to join us." According to Weinberger's notes 
of the conversation, the secretary answered, 
"The president has not made a decision; he is 
still considering it." Weinberger said that he 
had no orders from the president to launch 
the American portion of the joint operation. 
"Unfortunately, it is a bit too late for us to 
join you in this one," he added, wishing the 
French good luck. 14 

Weinberger called McFarlane and told him 
about his conversation with Hernu and the 
impending French attack. Hoping to salvage 
the joint attack, McFarlane immediately sent 
a message to the French that the United 
States still "might join them in an attack, but 
they could not do it that morning." There 
was just not enough time, he said. 

But France would not delay its air attack. 
Without any American support, fourteen Su- 
per Etendard fighter jets took off from the 
aircraft carrier Clemenceau. They swooped 
over the Sheik Abdullah Barracks with the 
afternoon sun at their backs. Aiming for the 
headquarters building of Islamic Amal mili- 
tia leader Hussein al-Musawi, they dropped 
a few bombs and fired some rockets, most of 
which landed in the town of Baalbek or hit 
harmlessly in the hillsides. The French attack 
was an abject failure, and the Parisian press 
pounced on President Francois Mitterrand 
for the anemic military response. Privately, 

the French government fumed at their sup- 
posed ally's refusal to respond to the attack 

on the multinational force. 15 

"The French never forgave us for not back- 
ing them in the attack," recalled John Poin- 
dexter. They believed the United States had 
betrayed them by pulling out of the joint at- 
tack. Weinberger's refusal to commit was 
seen as an act of betrayal to an ally. The 
French exacted their revenge three years 
later. In April 1986, intelligence implicated 
Libya's Moammar Gaddafi in the bombing of 
a disco in Berlin that killed two American 
servicemen. It was now Paris's turn to thwart 
an American air strike. They refused to allow 
American warplanes taking off from England 
to overfly its airspace, forcing a seventeen- 
hour round-trip flight around Europe. While 
the American public expressed outrage at 
France's action, no one except a handful in 
the government realized the reason behind 
their refusal to cooperate. 

In the end, President Reagan did nothing. 
Weinberger sent a memo to the commander 
in chief that in light of the French and Israeli 
air strikes on Baalbek, there was no reason 
for the United States to do its own attack. 
McFarlane strenuously disagreed, but 
Reagan sided with Weinberger. Dutifully, 
McFarlane wrote to Weinberger of the pres- 
ident's decision on November 22: "We 
should discontinue current plans and associ- 
ated readiness to execute preemptive attacks 
in response to the October 23 tragedy." Des- 
pite his repeated public statements prom- 
ising to punish those who had perpetrated 
the attack, Reagan had quietly decided to do 
nothing in response to an attack that killed 
more servicemen in a single day than any 
other since the Second World War. 

Reagan ordered one Pyrrhic air strike un- 
related to the barracks bombing. It turned 
into a fiasco. Syria launched a missile at a 
U.S. reconnaissance plane that overflew its 

military positions in eastern Lebanon. This 
time Vessey made sure there was no "navy- 
only" plan and that European Command ran 
the military operation. The command in 
Stuttgart assigned thirteen separate targets 
to Tuttle, requiring nearly forty aircraft from 
both carriers to carry out the reprisal. Tuttle 
had intended to launch the strike so the 
planes would arrive over the positions at 
high noon and the sun would be in the face 
of the Syrian gunners and the visibility 
would allow for easy identification. At five in 
the morning, an aide woke Tuttle, informing 
him that a message arrived instructing him 
to hit the Syrians at seven thirty a.m., only 
two and a half hours away. 

"It is not possible," he told his fleet com- 
mander. "It will take four hours just to get 
the ammo on the planes. I need a delay of at 
least two hours." 

Turtle's request went back to General 
Lawson at European Command, who twice 

asked the Joint Staff for a delay. It was 
denied. Why remains unclear, but apparently 
Vessey had made a remark to the defense at- 
taches from Britain, France, and Italy about 
a first-light strike at seven thirty a.m. This 
became set in stone as far as the operations 
officer within the Joint Staff was concerned, 
even though Vessey had never intended this. 

Planes and pilots were hastily sent aloft. 
Only twenty-eight of the planned thirty-eight 
jets were launched, and only one had its full 
bomb load. Syrian gunners shot down two 
aircraft. One two-seater A-6 piloted by 
twenty-six-year-old Mark Lange was shot as 
it dove down from two thousand feet. "I re- 
member the plane being jostled," said 
Lange's weapons officer, Lieutenant Robert 
Goodman, "and instead of looking at the sky, 
I was looking at the ground." Both pilots 
ejected just before hitting the ground, but 
Lange's chute failed to deploy and he died of 
his injuries shortly after being captured by 

Syrian troops. Goodman survived with three 
broken ribs and was taken to Damascus and 
held in a basement cell watching old John 
Wayne movies and the TV comedy Gimme a 

Break!— To the embarrassment of the ad- 
ministration, the preacher-turned-negotiator 
Jesse Jackson traveled to Damascus and se- 
cured the pilot's release. It led to an awkward 
ceremony at the Rose Garden with Reagan 
welcoming Goodman and thanking Demo- 
cratic presidential hopeful Jesse Jackson. 

Tension grew between Weinberger and 
McFarlane and the two men wrote dueling 
memos to the president. The national secur- 
ity adviser bitterly resented Weinberger's re- 
fusal to respond to the attack on the marines 
and remained unwilling to admit that the 
U.S. policy he advocated in Lebanon had 
failed. McFarlane wrote to Reagan urging 
him to stay the course in Beirut. "There has 
been progress, and the trends suggest more 
progress is in the offing," he said about the 

growing strength of the Lebanese army. 
"That said," McFarlane added, "the U.S. can- 
not yield to state-sponsored terrorism." 12 

Weinberger countered in his memos that 
the presence mission assigned to the marines 
had been flawed and had led to the disaster. 
It was impossible to be passive peacekeepers 
in the midst of a civil war. In light of the size 
of the bomb, more bunkers and trenching 
would not "prevent continuing significant at- 
trition to the force," Weinberger wrote to 
Reagan. The political situation had deterior- 
ated to the point where he and the chairman 
again urgently recommended pulling out the 


In early 1984, the facade of a multi confes- 
sional Lebanese government and army col- 
lapsed. After fighting between the pro-Irani- 
an militias and the Lebanese army, Sheik 
Fadlallah issued a fatwa for the Shia to leave 
the army. Overnight, one entire Lebanese 
brigade defected. Within days the army 

shattered along sectarian lines. America's ef- 
fort to rebuild Lebanon in a way pleasing to 
Washington lay in ruins. With a presidential 
election looming, the Reagan administration 
cut its losses, and on February 26, 1984, the 
last marines withdrew from the airport to 
their ships off the coast. 

One marine lieutenant, caked with dirt 
from months living in the mud of his bunker, 
looked down at the city below as he flew out 
on a helicopter and thought of those he knew 
who he had seen dead and mangled in the 
rubble of his battalion headquarters. "For all 
the sacrifice," he thought to himself, "I hope 
we accomplished something." In the end, 
269 marines, sailors, and soldiers had died; 
Lebanon remained unchanged. 

Although the marines had left, the infight- 
ing within the administration continued. The 
animosity boiled over during an early morn- 
ing breakfast meeting on April 5, attended by 
McFarlane, Shultz, and Noel Koch, a senior 

civilian at Defense. Koch made a statement 
that the United States used the term "terror- 
ism" very selectively: "When our friends en- 
gaged in this behavior it was always diplo- 
matically inconvenient to refer to it as state- 
supported terrorism." The problem, he ad- 
ded, was not Iran, but that the United States 
backed one faction in the war. "If we retaliate 
against Iran with overt military forces, we 
will provide what Iran will see as cause for a 
justified counter-retaliation." 

A visibly angry Shultz, his eyes squinting, 
looked straight at Koch. "I couldn't disagree 
more. We could not permit what happened 
in Beirut to go unpunished." He accused 
Koch of being a statistician. "The unpleasant 
truth is that the bombings in Lebanon 
changed the Middle East by creating a public 
reaction which forced the withdrawal of the 
marines from Lebanon." Our lack of will 
would only encourage Iran and other terror- 
ists, he added. 

The Israelis provided some bit of revenge 
to the United States and the killing of the 
marines. In 1984, they mailed a book of Shia 
holy places to Iran's ambassador in Syria. 
When Ali Akbar Mohtashemi opened the 
package, it exploded, blowing off several fin- 
gers and part of one hand. 12 

f the United States was in retreat, Iran 

and its Lebanese allies were on the offensive. 
The string of vehicle-borne suicide bombings 
against the West had succeeded beyond their 
expectations. Israel was reeling, and the 
American and European forces were out of 
Lebanon. In September 1984, they struck 
again at the American embassy annex in the 
Christian suburbs of East Beirut. The six- 
story building had just been completed and 
was protected by a low wall surrounding the 
building and serpentine barriers erected 

along the main road leading to the entrance. 
U.S. Marines had been providing security 
around its perimeter, but, under pressure 
from the Pentagon to reduce the military 
footprint in Lebanon, this duty had recently 
been handed over to contract Lebanese ex- 
cept for the normal small contingent of em- 
bassy marines guarding the building itself. 

Shia militants in nearby hills surveyed the 
embassy building. With Tehran's approval, 
relayed again through its ambassador in 
Damascus, they built near Sheik Abdullah 
Barracks a mock-up using barrels to outline 
the streets leading to the annex. The bomber 
repeatedly rehearsed his approach, each time 
increasing his speed through the zigzag bar- 
riers. On September 20, he drove the real 
route. As he approached the annex, he 
pressed on the accelerator. As two contract 
guards opened fire, he swerved in and out of 
the barricades designed to halt him and det- 
onated his bomb outside the wall, only 

twenty feet from the annex's north corridor. 
Two American servicemen working at their 
desks died instantly as part of the building 
collapsed. The blast slightly injured the 
American ambassador. 22 For the second 
time in as many years, the Iranian-backed 
militia had devastated the U.S. diplomatic 
mission in Lebanon.— 

After being woken with the news of the at- 
tack, Reagan flew on to political rallies in 
Iowa and Michigan. When asked by a stu- 
dent about this latest attack in Lebanon, 
Reagan disingenuously blamed his prede- 
cessor and the "near destruction of our intel- 
ligence capability" during Carter's presid- 
ency. Fortunately for the president, no one 
asked about his own culpability for the dis- 
astrous foreign policy regarding Lebanon.— 

Two days later, Reagan met with his staff 
in the Situation Room. McFarlane and Poin- 
dexter brought images taken by a spy 

satellite over Baalbek. The picture revealed 
an odd racetrack, with barrels arranged in a 
distinct pattern and tire tracks around each 
where a driver had repeatedly taken each 
turn at high speed. An observant analyst had 
married that image up with the approach to 
the embassy annex; the two overlapped ex- 
actly. Again intelligence placed the occu- 
pants at Baalbek at the center of an attack 

against the United States. 23 

The discussions fell along now familiar 
lines. Weinberger and Vessey expressed cau- 
tion. Innocent family members of the fight- 
ers lived there, they said. Meanwhile McFar- 
lane and Shultz pressed for military action. 
Casey chimed in that his information showed 
no women or children at Sheik Abdullah 
Barracks, but he could not be certain that 
three American hostages held by pro-Iranian 
Lebanese were not at those barracks. The 
president said he did not object to military 
response, provided it actually prevented 

future attacks, but he worried that the attack 
would be seen as revenge, as if that were 
somehow beneath the dignity of the United 
States. McFarlane countered that the only 
way you were going to dissuade future at- 
tacks was by punishing those responsible. 

President Reagan again erred on the side 
of caution. After telling Shultz to issue a 
stern message to Syria for its tacit support of 
the terrorists, the president spent the rest of 
the day drafting a speech to be given at the 
United Nations and planning for an upcom- 
ing meeting with the Soviet foreign minis- 
ter. 24 

Secretary of State Shultz became increas- 
ingly vocal at the lack of a willingness to re- 
spond to direct attacks on the United States. 
He agreed with McFarlane that striking back 
would cause Iran and Syria to think twice 
about repeating their terrorist undertakings. 
On October 25, Shultz gave a public speech 
in New York in which he cautioned, "We may 

never have the kind of evidence that can 
stand up in an American court of law, but we 
cannot allow ourselves to become the Ham- 
let of nations, worrying endlessly over 
whether and how to respond." Speaking be- 
fore a predominantly Jewish audience, 
Shultz praised the Israeli way of "swift and 
sure measures" against terrorists. As the 
New York Times reported, "Mr. Shultz, al- 
most alone of senior officials, has been wa- 
ging virtually a one-man campaign since last 
spring for a policy of force toward terror- 
ists." 25 

In the end, Reagan became the American 
Hamlet. The debate over responding to ter- 
rorist attacks continued week after week in 
the White House until, eventually, the at- 
tacks faded from the public's memory. While 
Reagan basked in his electoral landslide that 
November, his indecision and misguided Le- 
banon policy had been the policy equivalent 
of a fighter dropping his guard, and Iran 

landed a blow squarely on the Gipper's chin. 
None of this had been preordained. A short- 
sighted Israeli policy and American Cold 
War naivete opened the door for Iran in Le- 
banon. Israel's myopic obsession with des- 
troying the Palestinian resistance spawned a 
far more dangerous enemy, while an Americ- 
an government equally fixated on halting 
Soviet influence in the Middle East had led 
to misguided meddling in a Lebanese quarrel 
that Washington barely understood. In the 
process, Hezbollah's success emboldened 
Iran on the value of terrorism and the poor 
man's precision weapon— the truck 
bomb— as instruments for successfully beat- 
ing a superpower. 

n the meantime, Lebanon spawned a 

new crisis, one that would nearly consume 
the Reagan administration. On July 4, 1982, 
Iran's military attache, Revolutionary Guard 

officer Colonel Ahmad Motevaselian, and 
two other Iranian diplomats were returning 
to Beirut when Christian Phalange soldiers 
stopped them at a checkpoint in the seaside 
town of Borbara, thirty miles north of the 
capital. The militia pulled the three men 
from their car; it was the last anyone ever 
saw of them. The Phalange executed all of 
them shortly after their abduction. The tak- 
ing of the Iranian diplomats, including their 
senior Revolutionary Guard commander, in- 
furiated Tehran.— In response, Iran ordered 
the taking of their own hostages, hoping to 
use them as barter. On July 19, 1982, masked 
gunmen kidnapped the acting president of 
the American University of Beirut, David 
Dodge, as he strode on his customary after- 
noon walk. A longtime resident of Beirut and 
the great-grandson of the founder of the uni- 
versity, Dodge had been born in Beirut and 
lived for years in Lebanon, including service 
in the region during the Second World War. 

Dodge was bound and taken to Damascus, 
where an Iranian aircraft flew him to a pris- 
on near Tehran. American intelligence inter- 
cepted the Iranian communications about 
Dodge's transfer to Iran, and the internation- 
al outcry about the abduction and Iran's 
complicity in his kidnapping forced his re- 
lease exactly one year later. The Dodge kid- 
napping had been a major blunder by the 
Revolutionary Guard. By taking Dodge to 
Iran, it implicated the Iranian government 
and exposed its operations in Lebanon. The 
guard made a calculated decision: they 
would provide resources and tradecraft 
training, but hostage taking would be left to 
the Lebanese. The Iranian government 
needed to stay out of the limelight and not be 

directly tied to the abductions. 22 

Hostage taking was a time-honored tradi- 
tion in the Levant, with every party engaging 
in it. And in the 1980s, taking Westerners 
became the fad for Iran's surrogates. The 

arrest of the Dawa Party members in Kuwait 
and hundreds of Shia held in Israeli prisons 
launched a wave of hostage taking to serve as 
barters for their release. In 1984, two Amer- 
icans and a French citizen were snatched off 
the streets. This included a professor at 
American University and CNN bureau chief 
Jeremy Levin. Over the course of the next 
few years, the hostage-taking frenzy 
snatched nearly a hundred foreigners off the 
Lebanese streets, chiefly persons from 
America (twenty-five in all) and Europe. 

Iran's biggest prize occurred on March 16, 
1984. CIA station chief William Buckley had 
been personally sent to Beirut by William 
Casey to rebuild the agency's operations fol- 
lowing the April 1983 embassy bombing. But 
he failed to heed those who wisely cautioned 
him about varying his daily routine for his 
own safety. As he left home at his regular 
time, a group led by Imad Mugniyah over- 
powered him and stuffed him in the trunk of 

an old Renault. A marine operating a signal 
collection station in the embassy tracked 
Buckley's abductors as they drugged and 
spirited him out of Beirut in a coffin. In 
Buckley's pocket, his abductors discovered a 
sheet of paper listing every CIA officer in the 
country, and the exposure of all its operat- 
ives led to yet another neutering of American 
intelligence in Lebanon. 

Where Mugniyah took Buckley remains 
unknown. At the time, some in U.S. intelli- 
gence believed he had been flown to Iran for 
interrogation. CIA operative Bob Baer wrote 
that he and many other hostages had been 
taken to a building at Sheik Abdullah Bar- 
racks identified by a wooden sign as "mar- 
ried officers' quarters." Unlike the other 
hostages, Buckley was savagely beaten by his 
captors. They forced him to write a lengthy 
manuscript about his spy activities. To the 
Iranians' great annoyance, his Lebanese 
captors allowed him to die of pneumonia in 

June or July 1985. When news of his death 
reached one senior guard commander, Ali 
Saleh Shamkhani, he reportedly flew into a 
rage, screaming at his subordinates at a 
meeting in Tehran of the senseless death of 
such a valuable hostage. He apparently 
ordered a doctor sent to Lebanon to look 

after the well-being of other sick hostages.— 

The kidnappings were not very organized. 
Once started, the craze took on a life of its 
own, as anyone who knew of an American 
could gather some friends and snatch him. 
After Buckley's death, Imad Mugniyah 
played a key role in trying to get all the host- 
ages under one central control. One of the 
hostage takers, a man named Farouk, owned 
several car dealerships. While traveling 
south to Sidon to beat up a dealer who had 
not paid him his money, Mugniyah intercep- 
ted his car, and the two men got out on the 
side to talk. Mugniyah ordered Farouk to 

turn his two hostages over, much to Farouk's 

Mugniyah also played a major role in 
Hezbollah's infamous hijacking of a TWA 
Boeing 727 en route from Athens to Rome, 
which had been intended to secure the re- 
lease of the Dawa members in Kuwait. Dur- 
ing two tense weeks in June 1985, the drama 
unfolded in Beirut. The two hijackers, Mo- 
hammed Ali Hamadi and Hasan Izz al-Din, 
brutally beat a U.S. Navy diver, Robert Steth- 
em, who happened to be on the flight and 
traveling with his military ID card. They then 
shot him and dumped his body on the Beirut 
airport tarmac. 

Sayeed Ali did not know about the hijack- 
ing in advance, but when he heard of the 
TWA jet in Beirut, he joined other Hezbollah 
members in guarding the plane and passen- 
gers in case of a U.S. rescue mission. Amal 
leader Nabih Berri interceded and took con- 
trol of the passengers and crew, demanding 

for their exchange Lebanese prisoners being 
held in Israel, some of whom were also being 

held as bargaining chips. 23 The speaker of 
the Iranian parliament, Hashemi Rafsanjani, 
was flying back from Libya and stopped in 
Damascus to meet with al-Assad. Rafsanjani 
had been critical of taking the jetliner. In a 
meeting that included Iran's ever present 
ambassador Mohtashemi, they struck the 
deal to release the remaining TWA hostages 
in exchange for prisoners held in Israel. By 
the end of June, Israel released 766 Le- 
banese prisoners, and all the 150-odd host- 
ages on the plane came home— all except 
Seaman Stethem. 

n January 1985, Casey had asked 

Charles Allen to be the national intelligence 
officer for counterterrorism. Tall and thin, 
with a terse, businesslike persona, the self- 
described workaholic had been running a 
still sensitive program at the Pentagon. 
While there, he had witnessed firsthand the 
growing strength of Hezbollah. What im- 
pressed him was the sheer number of 
weapons flowing to Hezbollah fighters from 
Tehran via the Damascus airport. Weekly 
scheduled flights of large Russian-made 
II-76S arrived in the Syrian capital, where 
they were unloaded and moved via truck to 
the Bekaa Valley. "It was a very different or- 
ganization than any other terrorist organiza- 
tion the U.S. faced," Allen said. 

The fate of the Western hostages weighed 
heavily on Reagan. "He was an extraordinar- 
ily kind man," Allen observed. "The plight of 
the hostages and their families appealed to 

him emotionally. He became obsessed with 
releasing the Lebanese hostages, to the point 
that it distorted his aperture by concern for 

their welfare." 3 ^ 

Allen focused on both penetrating Hezbol- 
lah and developing intelligence to support a 
military rescue mission. West Beirut was ef- 
fectively a denied area for the CIA, and 
though they tried to get some sources into it, 
they were never able to really penetrate 
Hezbollah, settling instead for sources with 
secondhand access. After a meeting at the 
White House, Reagan signed a presidential 
finding to create a Lebanese counterterrorist 
team run by the army's intelligence organiza- 
tion. Robert Oakley, then the State Depart- 
ment's coordinator for counterterrorism, and 
the CIA's head of the directorate of opera- 
tions, Clair George, supported the idea as a 
means of countering the Shia militants who 
had attacked the marines and the embassy. 
"We wanted to be sure that the Lebanese 

team was properly trained and disciplined; 
we certainly did not want another 'loose can- 
non' roaming the streets of Beirut," Oakley 
later said. The agency's paramilitary special 
activities branch headed the effort, but found 
the group wanting, and it never materialized 

into a useful agent for the CIA. 31 

In 1986, Casey and his deputy, Robert 
Gates, asked Allen to head up the agency's 
hostage-location task force, which he did for 
the next fourteen months. Allen sent officers 
and agents and other collection means across 
the Green Line into West Beirut trying to 
find the hostages. Working with Carl Stiner 
and Delta, they developed a support network 
within Lebanon and Cyprus to undertake a 
rescue mission. But the military wanted its 
own guys to have eyes on the target and did 
not trust the tactical judgment of either a 
CIA officer or one of the agency's Lebanese 
agents. However, the likelihood of getting a 
military officer covertly near Sheik Abdullah 

Barracks or West Beirut was nearly zero, 
severely limiting any chances of undertaking 
a rescue. Stiner's men assembled a few times 
in Cyprus on an intelligence tip about the 
whereabouts of one of the hostages, but the 
information never seemed firm and a frus- 
trated group of special forces and SEALs 
never got a chance to ply their craft and exact 
some revenge. 

At various points either the CIA or the Is- 
raeli Mossad tried to even the score. One of 
their prime targets was Imad Mugniyah. On 
one occasion, the CIA suspected him to be in 
Paris. Casey proposed kidnapping him off 
the streets without telling the French. Robert 
Oakley heard about the CIAs idea from an 
FBI associate. He immediately went to see 
Shultz in his seventh-floor office to raise his 
objection. How could the United States criti- 
cize others for kidnapping and engage in the 
same conduct? This unilateral action would 
destroy our cooperation with the French on 

other terrorism or sensitive issues, Oakley 
told the secretary. 32 

As Oakley made his case, Bud McFarlane 
called Shultz. "The president has approved 
Director of Central Intelligence Casey's re- 
commendation to kidnap Mugniyah off the 
streets of Paris," McFarlane said. That star- 
ted a three-day running battle in the White 
House Situation Room, with Justice, FBI, 
and Oakley objecting, but McFarlane and the 
CIA concurring. The debate ended when the 
report turned out to be spurious. 

Two weeks later, another Mugniyah sight- 
ing placed him again in Paris. The United 
States reported this to the French. Casey dis- 
patched Duane "Dewey" Clarridge— heading 
the CIA's European Division— to coordinate 
with Paris on apprehending him. French po- 
lice raided a hotel room in which the CIA be- 
lieved he was staying. Instead of a twenty- 
five-year-old Lebanese terrorist, they found a 
fifty-year-old Spanish tourist. However, a 

French intelligence officer passed to Clar- 
ridge a photo of the wanted man taken in the 

airport on his way back to Beirut. 33 

CIA Director Casey placed Sheik Fadlallah 
in his crosshairs. Accounts differ on how Ca- 
sey decided to remove the Lebanese. But 
Christian Phalange members trained and 
equipped by the United States parked a car 
packed full of explosives near Sheik Fadlal- 
lah's home and the mosque where he 
preached. On March 5, 1985, it exploded just 
as Friday services let out. Eighty people died 
and more than two hundred were injured, 
but the attack missed its target, and Fadlal- 
lah was not injured. 34 

After the failed attempt on his life, the Ira- 
nians approached Fadlallah again with great 
esteem, hoping to patch up their differences. 
"Anyone who irritated the Americans so 
much that they would try and kill him was 
okay with Tehran," Fadlallah's close adviser 

Hani Addallah recalled with some 




vJn Sunday morning, May 13, 1984, the 
Kuwaiti oil tanker Umm Casbah, heading 
south out of the Persian Gulf. Lumbered low 
in the water, her holds were filled with a load 
of refined petroleum for the United King- 
dom. An Iranian reconnaissance plane re- 
layed the tanker's location back to an air 
base near Bushehr. An hour later, an Iranian 
F-4E painted in a desert-camouflaged 
scheme of light and dark brown swaths took 
off with its characteristic deafening roar and 
trail of black smoke. It took less than fifteen 
minutes for the two-seat jet to cover the dis- 
tance across the Gulf. The Iranian electronic 
warfare officer looked into a small video 
screen and put the crosshairs squarely on the 

eighty-thousand-ton tanker; he launched two 
small Maverick missiles, which had been de- 
signed to destroy tanks, not supertankers. 
The missiles hit the tanker squarely amid- 
ships, starting a small fire that the crew 
quickly extinguished. The next day, Iranian 
aircraft struck again with another missile, 
this time inflicting real damage, blowing a 
five-meter hole in the side of another 
Kuwaiti tanker, Bahrah. Two days later, Iran 
added Saudi Arabia to its target list. Iranian 
missiles hit the Saudi tanker Yanbu Pride 
while she sat anchored at the oil loading fa- 
cility of Ras Tannurah. The Iranian pilot 
then swooped in low, strafing the hapless 

tanker with its machine gun. 1 Over the next 
seven months, Iran struck fifteen more Gulf 
Arab ships. 

These attacks marked a major escalation 
in the Iran-Iraq War. The ensuing tanker 
war, as it became known, threatened to con- 
sume the entire Persian Gulf and curtail the 

flow of precious oil from the Middle East. 
Over the next four years, Iran and Iraq at- 
tacked more than five hundred ships, with 
the tonnage lost or damaged equally half that 
lost in the Atlantic during the Second World 

War. s For the United States, the tanker war 
turned the simmering tensions between 
Tehran and Washington into a very real 
shooting war. 

addam Hussein started the tanker war. 
Shortly after the outbreak of war, both sides 
declared war exclusion zones in which neut- 
ral shipping would risk attack. Iran issued a 
"Notice to Mariners" declaring a wartime ex- 
clusion zone running from twelve to sixty 
nautical miles from the Iranian coastline. 
Ships not bound for Iranian ports were 
ordered by Tehran to remain outside this 
zone. Iran's stated purpose was to ensure the 
safety of neutral shipping, but its true motive 

was to allow Iranian naval and air forces free 
rein through half the Persian Gulf, providing 
it the ability to attack shipping bound for 
Iraq or its supporters. But in effect it 
provided Iraq with a "free fire zone," for only 
ships bound for an Iranian port would sail in 
the Iranian exclusion zone. 3 Any ship in 
Iran's exclusion zone was fair game, and 
Iraqi pilots took full advantage of it. With the 
land war bogged down in the trenches out- 
side Basra, in February 1984 Iraqi aircraft 
escalated their attacks against Iranian oil ex- 
ports, pounding Iranian shipping in the free 

fire zone near Kharg Island and Bushehr. 4 

Iraq made use of recently provided French 
jets and training. In early October 1983, 
France leased five Super Etendards to Iraq. 
Designed to fire the Exocet antiship missile, 
they served as the Iraqi frontline attack 
planes against Iranian shipping until France 
delivered the more advanced F-i fighters in 
1985. While this overt military support from 

Paris made its peacekeepers targets for sui- 
cide bombings in Beirut, it gave Saddam's air 
force an unmatched capability to hit oil 
tankers leaving Iran's main oil terminal at 
Kharg Island. Iraqi pilots in their sleek 
French jets took off from Iraqi airfields and 
hugged the Kuwaiti and Saudi coastline, fre- 
quently flying through both countries' air- 
space with their tacit concurrence. When 
they flew past the small Iranian island of 
Farsi, just south of the Saudi-Kuwaiti border, 
the Iraqis turned east toward Kharg and the 
Iranian exclusion zone— a maneuver known 
as the Farsi hook. Then they unleashed their 
missiles on the first blip appearing on the 
radar screens before hightailing it back to 
Iraq to avoid being attacked by a wayward 
Iranian jet. 

In a three-month span, from February 
through April 1984, Iraqi aircraft sank or 
heavily damaged as many as sixteen ships. 
This included some friendly fire when an 

Iraqi Exocet missile struck the Saudi-owned 
tanker Safina al-Arab, which was carrying 
340,000 tons of Iranian crude destined for 
France. The ship erupted in a massive fire- 
ball, rendering it a total loss and killing one 
of the crew. 5 

Iran did not respond immediately to these 
Iraqi provocations. Despite later accusations 
by the United States that Iran spread the war 
throughout the Gulf, Iran never wanted the 
tanker war. With Iraq exporting most of its 
oil through pipelines to Turkey, there were 
only a few Iraqi-bound tankers to attack, and 
as the chief quarry in the tanker war, Tehran 
constantly pushed for a cease-fire to the 
shipping attacks. - 

After weighing its options and making 
vacuous threats about closing down the 
Strait of Hormuz, the Iranian government 
decided on a different strategy: to strike at 
the supporters of the Iraqi war machine, 
Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. And so on Sunday 

morning, May 13, the Umm Casbah became 
the first casualty of Iran's reprisals. Lacking 
the French connection and under a tight 
American arms embargo, the aging Iranian 
fleet of American twin-seat F-4S bombed and 
strafed ships in the northern Gulf, in much 
more restrained tit-for-tat strikes responding 
to the incessant Iraqi attacks on Kharg 

Even though Iraq had started the tanker 
war, the Gulf Arabs pointed the finger of 
blame at Iran. On May 21, 1984, they reques- 
ted a meeting of the United Nations Security 
Council to address Iran's attacks and the is- 
sue of freedom of navigation in the Gulf. On 
June 1, 1984, the UN passed Resolution 552, 
which called upon all states to respect the 
right of freedom of navigation and warned 
Tehran that if it did not comply, the UN 

would "consider effective measures." 2 Iran 
responded with indignation at the selective 
rebuke of the world's governing body, which 

ignored Iraq's role in spreading the war bey- 
ond the land. 

Saudi Arabia responded to the Iranian at- 
tacks by establishing a no-fly zone in the 
northern Gulf called the Fahd Line, named 
after the Saudi king. This line extended well 
into the Gulf, encompassing all the Saudi off- 
shore oil fields. The Saudi government 
warned Iran that it would challenge any air 
incursions across this line and suggested that 
it would use force should an Iranian jet cross 
this line to attack Saudi shipping. Behind the 
scenes, the American air force provided the 
backbone for the Fahd Line. American 
AWACS based in Dhahran provided air sur- 
veillance, while U.S. air-to-air tankers re- 
fueled Saudi F-15 fighters patrolling the 
Fahd Line. 

On June 5, an American AWACS detected 
two Iranian F-4 jets crossing the Fahd Line 
and vectored in two Saudi fighters, one of 
which had an American flight instructor in 

the rear seat. The Iranians ignored two 
warnings to turn back, and instead radioed 
back to their base asking for instructions. 
Encouraged by the American in the backseat 
of the cockpit, the tentative Saudi pilots each 
"pickled" off a heat-seeking missile. One 
struck home, turning an Iranian aircraft into 
a fireball and sending its two occupants 
down to the ocean below. 

Both sides scrambled nearly sixty aircraft, 
and it looked as though a major dogfight was 
about to ensue over the Persian Gulf. 
However, Iran backed down first. The Irani- 
an wing commander recalled his aircraft, 
avoiding a major confrontation that neither 

side particularly desired. While the Saudi 
defense minister was furious over his air 
force's aggressive action against Iran, fearing 
it would lead to an escalation of attacks on 
Saudi shipping, Iran learned a different les- 
son. 9 Never again would the Iranians send 
their planes to challenge the Fahd Line or 

use their scarce aviation resources to attack 
shipping in the northern Gulf. This unusual 
display of Saudi fortitude effectively elimin- 
ated the Iranian air threat. "Resolution pre- 
vailed against the Iranian bully!" remarked 
the Saudi ambassador, Prince Bandar, to 
Caspar Weinberger. 

In Washington, the tanker war caused 
more frantic meetings in the White House 
Situation Room. All agreed on the need to 
support Iraq and to strengthen the military 
capabilities of the Gulf Cooperation Council, 
but beyond that, the deep policy rifts ex- 
posed during the Lebanon crisis carried over 
to these new discussions about the tanker 

Both Robert McFarlane and George Shultz 
believed Tehran would use the Iraqi attacks 
as a rationale to expand its terrorist opera- 
tions to destabilize the Gulf Arab countries, 
and that it was looking to conduct another 
spectacular attack against the U.S. military, 

perhaps by using a suicide plane against a 
warship in the Persian Gulf. Shultz still 
chafed about the lack of an American milit- 
ary response to the marine barracks bomb- 
ing. He stressed to Weinberger during one of 
their weekly breakfast meetings that the Un- 
ited States could not let terrorism go unpun- 
ished; this would only lead to attacks at 
home and against our allies. McFarlane went 
beyond the secretary of state, suggesting 
during one White House meeting that the 
United States should consider a preemptive 
strike against Iran. 

Weinberger viewed this saber rattling with 

incredulity. 12 He quarreled with McFarlane 
in several meetings in June and July, arguing 
that this would just draw the United States 
into the larger Iran-Iraq War. The defense 
secretary could be a tenacious fighter, and he 
stymied the interagency deliberations with 
point papers and sheer stubbornness during 


Weinberger's underlings took a different 
tack to temper McFarlane's and Shultz's 
martial ideas. They raised the continuing 
concerns about long-term alienation of Iran. 
The number three man in the Pentagon, 
deputy for policy Fred Ikle, cautioned that 
military action against Iran would neither 
hinder its terrorist operations nor achieve 
much more than Iraq could do. In his early 
sixties with graying hair, Ikle came to prom- 
inence primarily for his writings on nuclear 
and strategic warfare. A staunch Cold War 
hawk, he often proposed covert action 

against the Soviets in Afghanistan.— 
However, when it came to Iran, he took the 
line of reconciliation. "The most important 
mid-term issue is the Soviet rule [sic, role] in 
a post-Khomeini Iran. By maneuvering 
ourselves into a deeper confrontation with 
Iran now, we will make it easier for the Sovi- 
ets to establish themselves." 13 

Other civilians in the Pentagon agreed. 
The United States needed to plan to eventu- 
ally "reestablish ties with, hopefully, a mod- 
erate Iran in the post- Khomeini period," 
wrote Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense 
Sandra Charles, echoing her boss Ikle's 
views. 14 While Weinberger couldn't have 
cared less about reestablishing any rapport 
with the Islamic Republic, the argument did 
resonate with William Casey and Bud 
McFarlane, and eventually with Ronald 

President Reagan eventually signed two 
directives to respond to the tanker war. He 
reiterated the American goal of preventing 
an Iranian victory. He rejected any military 
attack on Iran, but ordered American forces 
to be ready to respond immediately should 
Iran attack an American merchant ship or 
try to halt the free flow of oil through the 

Strait of Hormuz. 15 Additionally, Reagan au- 
thorized the transfer of four hundred Stinger 

missiles as part of a major upgrade for Saudi 
Arabia's air defense, and he offered more 
military aid to the Gulf Arabs. 

Administration officials then fanned out in 
the region to reassure the Arabs. The presid- 
ent's envoy, Donald Rumsfeld, made a swing 
through the Gulf Arab capitals, promoting 
closer defense ties with Washington and en- 
couraging the Arabs to develop contingency 
plans with CENTCOM, bringing promises of 
new arms. As deputy national security ad- 
viser, John Poindexter led an interagency 
team to Saudi Arabia, where they found 
Saudi officials in a blustering, bellicose mood 
and unhappy that Reagan had not taken a 
harder line. "The king would not stand for 
appeasement with Iran," one Saudi official 
told him. "We intend to strike back if Iran es- 
calates their attacks on our tankers!" Yet 
when Poindexter pressed Saudi Arabia for a 
public show of support for the United States 
against Iran, perhaps allowing U.S. forces to 

use Saudi bases, the king balked. Despite the 
Iranian attacks, the Gulf states remained re- 
luctant to allow American boots on their 

ground.— They encouraged the United States 
to take action against Iran, but in the event 
of war, America's Gulf Arab partners would 
remain firmly on the side-lines. 

Privately, Reagan harbored reservations 
about such open-ended aid to these feckless 
friends. When McFarlane placed the propos- 
al for more helicopters and artillery for 
Kuwait on the president's desk, the Gipper 
read it and looked up. "Bud, the current in- 
terests of the Kuwaiti government in working 
with us are at best transitory," he said. In- 
credulous, he added, "The United States is 
increasingly responsible for the defense of a 
country that openly criticizes our policy." 

Un November 23, 1985, General Robert 
Kingston turned over the reins of CENTCOM 
to Marine General George B. Crist. Slim with 
dark hair, the son of a naval officer, Crist at- 
tended Villanova University, the same school 
as General P. X. Kelley. Kelley, now the mar- 
ine commandant, pushed Weinberger and 
General John Vessey to appoint Crist to be 
the first marine to ever command a major, 
theater-unified command. The original 
agreement for CENTCOM called for alternat- 
ing marine and army commanders; it was 
now the corps' time. Crist's experience out- 
side of the confines of the smallest service 
made him a strong candidate. He had unpre- 
cedented joint experience: as an aide to the 
president in the 1950s, as assistant to the 
chairman during the Vietnam War, as deputy 
operations officer for Europe during the Ira- 
nian hostage crisis, and most recently as vice 
director of the Joint Staff during Lebanon 
and Grenada crises. Kelley knew that both 

the defense secretary and the chairman 
thought highly of Crist, having seen him in 
action daily as the vice director. 

In the mid-1980s, CENTCOM was any- 
thing but the center of the American military 
universe. The Middle East remained a back- 
water, and officers on the fast track avoided 
going to the Tampa headquarters that many 
within the military called "Sleepy Hollow." 
With the military's focus on a war with the 
Soviets in Europe, few wanted to go to a ter- 
tiary theater such as the Middle East. 
CENTCOM had more officers retiring than 
moving on to other assignments. When Ma- 
jor General Samuel Swart of the air 
force— the new J-3, or operations of- 
ficer—came to Tampa in 1986, a good friend 
of his wrote him a note jokingly saying, 

"From all work to no work." 12 

General Crist focused on putting together 
a better staff for his 751-person headquar- 
ters. He brought in a new chief of staff from 

the army, Major General Donald Penzler. Ex- 
perienced working in large European army 
headquarters and recently as the deputy 
chief of staff at the army's Training and Edu- 
cation Command, he had served with Crist 
on the Joint Staff from 1981 to 1983, and 
Crist requested that he come down to be his 
chief of staff. Penzler was tough, discreet, 
and loyal. He initiated "Operation Slash," a 
program designed to get rid of deadweight 
and bring new, energetic officers to the staff. 
His first goal was forcing the retirement of a 
senior colonel who was running his own side 

business in town. 

Crist faced the challenges of two major 
wars. Shortly after he took over as chief of 
staff at CENTCOM, the Soviet military began 
a massive new operation in Afghanistan. Un- 
beknownst to U.S. intelligence at the time, 
the newly installed Soviet leader, Mikhail 
Gorbachev, decided to unleash the Soviet 
military in a last attempt to win the war. 

Elite special forces, Spetsnaz troops, backed 
by a hundred frontline attack aircraft, relent- 
lessly pursued the guerrillas. The Soviets 
dramatically increased their attacks into 
Pakistan proper. In 1986 alone, the Soviets 
conducted more than 880 air and ground in- 
cursions, attacking guerrilla bases and des- 
troying supply depots. 12 The Soviet military 
formed a new, high-level Southern Theater 
of Military Operations command, stationing 
a very experienced general, the former chief 
of staff of the Soviet forces in East Germany, 
as its new commander. 

Crist agreed with the prevailing assess- 
ment of the Soviet desire to secure warm-wa- 
ter ports and Middle East oil. 22 An analysis 
group inside the intelligence directorate pro- 
duced a monograph that portrayed two hun- 
dred years of gradual, unrelenting Russian 
expansion south into the Caucasus. The 
study stated that the Soviet invasion of Afgh- 
anistan was one more manifestation of this 

trend. "In any event," Crist wrote to the 
chairman, "it is instructive to recall that the 
Soviets have occupied Iran four times in the 
Twentieth Century alone."— 

But the marine knew that in the event of a 
general war against the Soviets, CENTCOM 
would become a backwater theater. 
CENTCOM would never send any ground 
troops into Iran. In the event of a major war 
with Moscow, forces allocated to his com- 
mand to deploy to Iran, such as the 82nd 
Airborne Division, were also slated to go to 
the main front in Europe. "The plans were 
unrealistic," Crist said later, "but you had to 
keep them for defense funding as all the re- 
sources were tied to Soviet war plans and the 
reason for CENTCOM's being."— 

But it would be the expanding Iran-Iraq 
War that soon eclipsed Cold War worries as 
the CENTCOM commander's chief anxiety. 
In February 1986, Iran amassed over one 
hundred thousand men in what both U.S. 

and Iraqi intelligence officials meeting in 
Baghdad believed would be another major 
frontal assault on Basra. Instead, on the 
night of February 10, amid a pouring rain- 
storm, Iranian Revolutionary Guardsmen 
loaded up in small boats and rafts and 
crossed the mouth of the Shatt al-Arab and 
easily captured the al-Faw Peninsula, a 
muddy finger of land that served as Iraq's oil 
terminus for all its crude exports from the 
Persian Gulf. The Iranians quickly reinforced 
their foothold, and some thirty thousand sol- 
diers pushed up the two small roads running 
north to Iraq's only port, Umm Qasr, and the 
city of Basra. A humiliated Saddam Hussein 
immediately ordered the peninsula recap- 
tured. The Iraqi army threw three of its best 
divisions into an inept, piecemeal attack that 
the dogged Iranian defenders easily drove 
back, inflicting some eight thousand casual- 
ties. 23 Iran's lack of trucks or tanks for its 
foot soldiers, as well as poor logistics, 

prevented its victory at al-Faw from becom- 
ing the southern gateway to Basra, and this 
front bogged down into another war of the 
trenches. But the Iranian gains rattled every 
Arab state in the Middle East, none more so 
than Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. 

1 he tanker war took another dangerous 

turn. Iran announced an expanded blockade 
of Iraq. The Iranian navy would confiscate 
any military cargo destined for Iraq, includ- 
ing cargo transferred through a third country 
like Kuwait or Saudi Arabia. The Iranian 
navy began enforcing this decree by challen- 
ging ships entering the Strait of Hormuz, 
asking for their nationality and last and next 
ports of call. Any vessel destined for Kuwait 

was stopped, and a boarding party of Iranian 
sailors would come aboard to check the 
ship's manifest and open any suspicious con- 
tainers. Any ship found carrying suspicious 
cargo was diverted to Bandar Abbas, where 
Iranian authorities would conduct a detailed 
search of the cargo holds, seizing any milit- 
ary hardware. 24 In the first eight months, 
sixty-six ships were stopped and searched by 
the Iranian navy— a small fraction of the 
ships that entered the Gulf, but enough to 
make everyone, especially those assisting 

Iraq, very nervous. 25 

Around eleven a.m. on January 12, 1986, 
the six-hundred-foot-long American Lines 
ship President Taylor steamed twenty-four 
miles off the coast of the United Arab Emir- 
ates. Bound for the port of Fujairah with a 
small load of cotton, the ship was intended to 
pick up a load of bagged food for CARE and 
Catholic Relief Services before heading off 
for India. A small Iranian patrol boat came 

alongside the U.S.-flagged ship and, over the 
radio, demanded, "Heave to." 

The President Taylor's captain, Robert 
Reimann, tried to protest. "We are in inter- 
national waters. You have no right to stop 
us," he replied. 

The Iranian boat trained its main gun on 
the defenseless merchant, and an Iranian 
voice over the radio politely insisted that the 
ship "stop her engines." Reimann had little 
choice but to comply. 

The Iranians dropped a small rubber Zodi- 
ac boat into the undulating seas and, in short 
order, seven Iranians, including two officers, 
boarded the President Taylor, taking control 
of the ship's radio and its forty-three crew- 
men. They asked Captain Reimann to pro- 
duce his manifest. He did so, and after ex- 
amining it and looking into a couple of con- 
tainers, the Iranians expressed their satisfac- 
tion, telling the American master they only 
wanted to verify that the ship was not 

carrying contraband bound for Iraq. In less 
than an hour, the seven Iranians had depar- 
ted, leaving the President Taylor to make 
her way on to Fujairah.— 

The problem for the United States, as a 
Pentagon spokesman acknowledged the day 
after the incident, was that Iran had every 
right under international law to search ships 
suspected of carrying war materiel to Iraq. 
The United States faced the age-old problem 
of a neutral's ability to engage in commerce 
and the right of a belligerent to maintain a 
naval blockade. But with Weinberger's utter 
disdain for Iran and this incident occurring 
only three months after the Palestinian hi- 
jacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille 
Lauro, in which an elderly American, Leon 
Klinghoffer, had been shot in his wheelchair 
and dumped over the side, the Reagan ad- 
ministration was in no mood to risk another 
such hostage crisis from a country with a 
track record of taking Americans hostage. 

On February l, the State Department sent 
a tersely worded cautionary message to the 
Iranian government through the Swiss em- 
bassy in Tehran: "Irrespective of the legal is- 
sues involved, the visit and search of U.S. 
flag vessels by armed Iranian forces during a 
period of heightened tension and regional 
conflict could lead to a confrontation 
between U.S. and Iranian military units, 

which neither nation desires." 22 

"If this continues," wrote General Vessey 
to Secretary Weinberger, "escalation of the 

current conflict appears inevitable."— 

Weinberger ordered the navy to prevent 
any further boardings of an American mer- 
chant. 22 U.S. warships would now position 
themselves within visual range of any U.S.- 
flagged merchant ship transiting the Gulf, 
poised to interdict any approaching Iranian 
vessel. Should an Iranian warship try to stop 
a U.S. merchant, an American naval officer 

would go over to the merchant and check for 
any military equipment for Iraq. Assuming 
the ship carried no contraband, the U.S. nav- 
al officer would inform the Iranian captain of 
this fact. Since the United States did not 
provide Iraq directly with arms, it was incon- 
ceivable that any ship flying the Stars and 
Stripes would be guilty of carrying war 
materiel, but if they were, the U.S. Navy on- 
scene commander would divert the merchant 
to a neutral port and then allow the Iranians 
on board to remove any prohibited items un- 
der the supervision of the U.S. Navy. 32 
Under no circumstances, however, would 
any U.S. merchant be diverted to an Iranian 

port. 31 If the Iranians persisted in trying to 
board after the U.S. Navy had certified the 
absence of contraband, Poindexter wrote to 
Weinberger, the "on-scene commander will 
use whatever means may be appropriate, in- 
cluding measured military force, to forestall 
any such attempt." 

Shortly after the President Taylor incid- 
ent, Crist formulated a plan to attack Iran 
should the country try to interfere with neut- 
ral shipping. CENTCOM planners drew up a 
top secret operation called Invoke Resolve 
that entailed massive air strikes on Iranian 
naval forces at Bandar Abbas. On February 7, 
1986, Crist provided an overview of it in the 
Tank before the chairman of the Joint Chiefs 
of Staff and the secretary of defense. U.S. 
Navy aircraft from the carrier in the Gulf of 
Oman would strike an important air defense 
headquarters outside the Persian Gulf near 
the small port town of Jask just before dawn, 
before flying at a low level to the Persian Gulf 
to destroy the Iranian surface-to-air Hawk 
missiles that ringed Bandar Abbas, as well as 
the Bandar Abbas International Airport, 
which, in addition to being a commercial air- 
port, was the main southern airfield for the 
Iranian air force. Simultaneously, fourteen 
B-52S from Guam, supported by nearly fifty 

air-refueling tankers and an array of sophist- 
icated reconnaissance planes and electronic 
warfare aircraft, would launch precision- 
guided cruise missiles that would lead, 
knocking out hard-to-reach targets such as 
the 1st Naval District headquarters building, 
which sat uncomfortably close to a hospital. 
Then nine of the massive four-engine air- 
craft—each capable of carrying sixty thou- 
sand pounds of bombs— would pummel the 
Bandar Abbas Naval Base. Operating in 
groups of three, each could saturate an area 
one and a half miles long by a mile wide with 

hot shrapnel and raw explosive power. 32 
Should Iran try to retaliate and escalate the 
conflict, the United States was prepared to 
conduct further air strikes and drop air-de- 
livered mines in Bandar Abbas Harbor, 
which would effectively close it down for all 
military or civilian vessels. 33 

Over the long term, General Crist thought 
that the only way for his Sleepy Hollow 

headquarters to counter either the Russians 
or the Iranians lay in building military ties 
with the Gulf Arabs. In the spring of 1986, 
just four months into command, General 
Crist wrote a lengthy letter to Secretary 
Weinberger laying out his thinking: "A 
premium has to be placed on coalition war- 
fare. Our friends and allies have to assume a 
share of the responsibility for the defense of 
the region." 34 With Egypt, this already exis- 
ted, but the Persian Gulf remained the key 
shortfall and the Gulf Cooperation Council 
was hardly a credible military alliance. 

Crist proposed developing separate 
bilateral military-to-military defense ar- 
rangements with each of the Gulf countries, 
with Crist's staff synchronizing them into 
one combined force that could augment the 
U.S. military. "At a minimum," he wrote to 
Chairman Crowe, "it offers the opportunity 
to open doors in countries that have largely 
been off-limits to the U.S. military." 

Crist and Penzler flew to Washington to 
brief Weinberger on the idea, intending to 
concentrate on the three countries that 
offered the most promise: Saudi Arabia, 
Bahrain, and Kuwait. The Pentagon leader- 
ship liked the idea and authorized Crist to go 
forward. Crist then ran it by Richard 
Murphy, who headed the State Department's 
Near Eastern Affairs Bureau. He too thought 
it had merit, and with Secretary Shultz's con- 
currence, instructions went out to the em- 
bassies in the Gulf to assist in the CENTCOM 
planning effort. 

At first glance, Jeremiah Pearson belied 
the appearance of a warrior-diplomat. With a 
large round head and dowdy appearance, "he 
looked like a big sack," one senior officer re- 
marked. A pilot, he took on the persona of 
dumb fighter jock. But his bright blue eyes 
revealed a considerable intellect. With a de- 
gree in aeronautical engineering, he joined 
the marine corps in i960, earning his wings 

as a marine corps pilot and distinguishing 
himself in Vietnam. Later he became a test 
pilot and was selected for the astronaut pro- 
gram. Four months after being promoted to 
brigadier general, in April 1986 he and his 
wife drove down in the stifling summer heat 
to Tampa, Florida, where Pearson assumed 
the job of CENTCOM's forward headquarters 
commander and inspector general. Pearson 
arrived somewhat unsure of his duties and of 
his new boss, the CENTCOM commander. 
He had never served in a joint billet, and 
General Crist had a reputation within the 
marine corps for not liking aviators. But the 
marine corps commandant, General Paul 
Kelley, had called to give Pearson a strong 
recommendation, and after meeting with 
Pearson in his office at MacDill Air Force 
Base, Crist liked what he saw in the quiet, 
self-confident young brigadier general 
enough to give him the chance to test his 

Pearson spearheaded CENTCOM's bilater- 
al military planning with the Gulf Arabs, 
code-named New Splendor. He established a 
small planning cell within the headquarters 
that reported directly to General Crist. By 
both coincidence and design it was largely 
composed of marines. Pearson flew out 
nearly every week to the Gulf, traveling to 
each country, building trust through hours of 
sitting around talking and sipping cups of 
hypersweet tea. To pass the time on the 
nineteen-hour flights from Tampa to the 
Gulf, Pearson checked out Arab-language 
tapes from the Defense Language Institute 
and discovered he had an aptitude for the 
difficult language. Pearson soon commanded 
a conversational knowledge of Arabic— a 
novelty for military officers at 
CENTCOM— which greatly enhanced his 
standing with his Arab counterparts. "At 
least," Pearson chuckled, "it kept me from 
getting ripped off in the souk." 35 

The Gulf Arabs had a healthy distrust of 
the United States. All questioned Washing- 
ton's ability to keep their cooperation confid- 
ential and out of the New York Times. Some 
leaders viewed CENTCOM as an American 
interventionist force, whose mission was 

only to advance U.S. goals in the area. 3 ^ All 
repeatedly asked Pearson, "Can we rely on 
Washington if Iran attacks us?" 

To help Pearson, Crist shared classified in- 
telligence briefings about the Iran-Iraq War 
with the Gulf states. "It was one of the tools 
we used to build trust and cooperation and 
to get them thinking about their security," 
said the CENTCOM intelligence director, 
Brigadier General Cloyd Pfister of the 
army. 32 Not surprisingly, this proved very 
popular with regional leaders, and military 
intelligence officers, and the CIA traveled 
with Pearson to provide regular sanitized up- 
dates on Iran based upon sources that only a 
superpower had access to. 

Pearson's meetings gradually moved from 
government buildings to the private homes 
of senior leaders. With the consultation of 
Murphy's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs at 
the State Department, with whom Pearson 
spoke regularly, the conversations turned 

from the mundane to the substantive. Priv- 
ately, the Gulf leaders all conveyed their con- 
cerns about Iranian intentions and the 
calamity that would befall their regimes if 
Tehran defeated Iraq. They accused Iran of 
trying to establish a Shia crescent across the 
Arab world, stretching from Lebanon, across 
Iraq, and down through the "Arabian" Gulf, 
as they preferred to call the body of water. 
Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, with their sizable 
Shia populations, voiced these concerns the 
loudest. Bahrain's ruler, Sheik Isa, loathed 
the Iranians, whom he viewed as arrogant 
and intent on stirring up discontent among 
his Shia subjects. The powerful Saudi de- 
fense minister, Prince Sultan, echoed similar 

warnings to Pearson. The United States and 
Saudi Arabia, he stressed, needed to support 
Saddam Hussein because he provided a buf- 
fer against Iran, and they needed to be ready 
to use military force. "They were all scared 
shitless of the Iranians," Pearson succinctly 

In June 1987, New Splendor achieved its 
first success with an agreement with Bahrain 
to defend the tiny emirate against Iranian at- 
tack. After lengthy meetings at the Bahrain 
Defense Force headquarters in Manama with 
defense minister Sheik Hamad bin Isa al- 
Khalifa and chief of staff of the armed forces 
Major General Abdullah bin Salman al-Khal- 
ifa, the United States agreed to provide F-i6s 
and other aircraft to jam Iranian communic- 
ations and weapons systems in the event of 
an Iranian attack. To support the U.S. milit- 
ary, Sheik Khalifa promised to build a 
hardened command bunker near Manama 
(with the United States installing the 

communications suite) and a new airfield in 
the southern tip of the country especially for 
the U.S. military. 32 

Pearson obtained a similar agreement with 
Kuwait. Unlike Bahrain, Kuwait's border sat 
astride the key front of the Iran-Iraq War, 
and with the capture of al-Faw, the rumble of 
artillery fire rattled the windows of the 
American ambassador's residence in Kuwait 
City. With the government's open support of 
Baghdad, the emir worried that the Iranian 
military might try to outflank the Iraqi de- 
fenders by simply going through Kuwait. 
Pearson agreed that the U.S. government 
would enhance the Kuwait air defense sys- 
tem by selling them Hawk air defense mis- 
siles to be stationed around Kuwait City. 

Saudi Arabia proved the most difficult. A 
steady stream of diplomats and generals held 
labored negotiations with the Saudi delega- 
tion, headed by the strong-willed chief of 
staff of the Saudi Arabian air force, 

Lieutenant General Ahmad al-Buhairi, under 
the oversight of the powerful defense minis- 
ter, Prince Sultan. They explored possible 
Iranian threats to the kingdom, including a 
large-scale ground attack by Iran and an Ira- 
nian air attack on Saudi oil facilities and oil 

tankers. 42 At Weinberger's urging, Crist re- 
peatedly tried to get the Saudis to agree to 
permit pre-positioned American equipment 
and to allow access to Saudi air bases for 
U.S. combat aircraft. Each time, the Saudis 
politely changed the subject. While they 
made headway in solidifying the American 
AWACS integration into the Saudi air de- 
fense scheme and defense of the Fahd Line, 
the Saudis had little enthusiasm for anything 
formal. As Penzler recalled, they wanted to 
keep talking just in case Iran did attack and 
they needed American help, but otherwise 
preferred to keep CENTCOM at a distance. 
"It was just too much to ask of the Saudis be- 
fore the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait," said 

General Russell Violett, who enjoyed a close 
relationship with the Saudi royal family. 41 

In October 1985, Admiral William Crowe 
replaced Vessey as the chairman of the Joint 
Chiefs of Staff and the nation's top military 
man. A balding, bulbous Oklahoman, Crowe 
had risen through the ranks through his 
political acumen, not because he was a war- 
rior. With a doctorate in political science 
from Princeton, Crowe held a series of 
strategy and policy positions inside the Belt- 
way, beginning with an early posting as an 
assistant to President Eisenhower's naval 
aide. The one notable exception was in 1970, 
when he volunteered to serve as a senior ad- 
viser to the South Vietnamese riverine 
forces. His experience fighting the Vietcong 
in small patrol boats in the brown-water 
tributaries of the Mekong Delta left a signi- 
ficant impact on Crowe's views of war. "I did 

not have a traditional naval officer's view, 
but one more akin to the army or marines, 
shaped by fighting a guerrilla war," Crowe 

would later reflect. 42 In the 1970s, Crowe 
also served as commander of the small show- 
the-flag Middle East Force based in Bahrain. 
A purely diplomatic assignment, it had af- 
forded Crowe insight into the political dy- 
namics of the Persian Gulf and the Arab 

As the United States discussed Iran 
strategy, in 1986 Congress forced sweeping 
legislation down on a hidebound Pentagon. 
Officially called the Defense Reorganization 
Act, it was widely referred to by the names of 
its two sponsors, Barry Goldwater and Willi- 
am Nichols. Sam Nunn and Les Aspin, 
among others, looked into how best to integ- 
rate the separate services into a more effect- 
ive joint war-fighting force. The need was 
real. Interservice rivalry plagued the 
Pentagon. Each branch independently 

procured and developed its own hardware. 
Key systems, such as air force and navy air 
defense radars, could not share data; radios 
were not compatible. Even such common 
items as wrenches differed from service to 
service. Over the objections of Secretary 
Weinberger and the service chiefs, 
Goldwater-Nichols passed, marking the first 
major restructuring of the Department of 
Defense since 1947. The legislation elevated 
the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as 
the principal military adviser to the presid- 
ent, rather than the corporate body com- 
posed of the chairman and the four service 
chiefs. It clearly delineated the military chain 
of command as running from the president 
to the secretary of defense to the unified 
four-star commanders in chief, or CINCs 
(pronounced "sinks"), such as Crist at 
CENTCOM, and provided the CINCs wide 
latitude to organize and employ the forces of 
all four services in their theaters. This 

effectively cut out all the service heads from 
any operational decisions and limited them 
to training and equipping their forces. The 
days of the chief of naval operations actually 
controlling the fleet had ended. 43 

Crowe's first response to this new law was 
to issue a personal message to the unified 
commanders that he advocated a go-slow ap- 
proach to this new policy. Crowe chose not to 
exercise his new authorities, but continued 
to defer to the other Joint Chiefs for their in- 
put and worked at building consensus de- 
cisions. 44 

It would take time and a necessity for the 
new law to gain acceptance. Change comes 
painfully to conservative institutions like the 
U.S. military. Unfortunately for the generals 
and admirals inside the Pentagon, Iran 
would force this change. War was on the ho- 
rizon and the Revolutionary Guard provided 
the test case for this new way of joint 




vJn the morning of June 18, 1985, Major 

General Colin Powell, the senior military as- 
sistant to Defense Secretary Caspar Wein- 
berger, sat at his desk in the plush, expansive 
defense secretary's suite on the outside ring 
of the third floor of the Pentagon. A number 
of classified documents were stacked in Pow- 
ell's in-box for Weinberger, the most sensit- 
ive delivered by couriers using locked 
pouches. One document immediately caught 
Powell's eye— a top secret "eyes only" draft 
National Security Decision Directive from 
the White House. These directives were 
some of the most important documents pro- 
duced by the government. Intended for the 
president's signature, they laid out U.S. 

foreign policy and served as principal guides 
to focus the entire U.S. government. The cov- 
er letter was signed by National Security Ad- 
viser Bud McFarlane and entitled "U.S. 
Policy Toward Iran." 

What McFarlane proposed was a drastic 
change in American policy toward Iran. "Dy- 
namic political evolution is taking place in- 
side Iran," McFarlane began. "Instability 
caused by the pressures of the Iran-Iraq 
War, economic deterioration and regime in- 
fighting create the potential for major 
changes in Iran. The Soviet Union is better 
positioned than the United States to exploit 
and benefit from any power struggle that res- 
ults in changes in the Iranian regime." The 
future presented a picture of growing unrest 
that gave Moscow a golden opportunity to 
exploit the turbulence. The strategic buffer 
provided by Iran protecting Persian Gulf oil 
would be gone, effectively opening up the en- 
tire region to Soviet control. It was a dire 

prediction and a grave strategic threat to the 
West if the United States did not develop a 
new strategy. 

Rather than containing Iran as Weinber- 
ger advocated, the national security adviser 
proposed detente. McFarlane recommended 
using allies to sell Iran weapons as a means 
of undercutting Soviet leverage and in the 
process currying favor with "moderate" ele- 
ments within the regime. This could pull 
Iran back into the Western fold and array it 
against the Soviet Union. 

Since this was well above Powell's pay 
grade, he dutifully sent the document in to 
Weinberger, writing on a small white buck 
slip with his letterhead, "SECDEF, This came 
in 'Eyes Only' for you. After you have seen 
recommend I pass to Rich Armitage for his 

Cap Weinberger was appalled. He had 
never forgiven the current regime in Tehran 
for seizing the U.S. embassy and holding the 

hostages for 444 days— an event he viewed as 
a national humiliation. "The only moderates 
are in the grave," he thought. Now this man 
in the White House is trying to say we ap- 
proach them in the spirit of forgiveness and 
based on the assumption there were some 
sort of fanciful pragmatists around 
Khomeini? "It was nonsense." 1 Weinberger 
sent the document back to Powell, scrawling 
across his military assistant's white paper, 
"This is almost too absurd to comment on. 
By all means pass it on to Rich, but the as- 
sumption here is: 1) Iran is about to fall, and 
2) we can deal with them on a rational basis. 
It's like asking Gaddafi to Washington for a 
cozy chat." 

Armitage had the same reaction to the 
draft directive as his boss. "Bullshit," he said, 
cutting to the quick. 

What no one realized in June 1985 was 
that McFarlane's proposal would embark the 
United States on a foreign policy path that 

would lead to the biggest scandal of the 
Reagan administration, Iran-Contra. Profits 
from secret arms sales to Iran were siphoned 
off to fund pro-American guerrillas fighting 
the leftist government of Nicaragua. Three 
government investigations with multiple in- 
dictments followed before the independent 
counsel finally wrapped up the last one in 
1993, after a last-minute string of pardons by 
outgoing president George H. W. Bush 
ended the affair. In reality, Iran-Contra was 
actually two separate issues: one the attempt 
by the Reagan administration to resupply 
anticommunist guerrillas in Nicaragua, and 
the other the sale of weapons to Iran in the 
vain hope of releasing seven American host- 
ages being held by Hezbollah as a precursor 
to renewed diplomatic relations with the 
Islamic Republic. The two efforts merged in 
the White House under a self-righteous mar- 
ine lieutenant colonel named Oliver North. 

Un the afternoon of July 3, 1985, David 
Kimche, the director general of the Israeli 
foreign ministry and a close friend to Israeli 
prime minister Shimon Peres, stopped by 
Bud McFarlane's office in the West Wing just 
down the hall from the Oval Office. After the 
usual pleasantries about the hot, humid 
Washington weather, Kimche asked to talk 
to McFarlane alone. McFarlane respected the 
Oxford-educated Kimche, who had a distin- 
guished career with the Israeli intelligence 
service, Mossad. The two men had worked 
together two years before during the U.S. in- 
tervention in Beirut, and McFarlane found 
him highly intelligent and a kindred spirit on 

their views of the Middle East. 2 When the 
other staff left the room, Kimche said, "You 
know, Mike Ledeen came and asked us 
whether we had any judgments about an Ira- 
nian opposition movement. We told them we 

Michael Ledeen was a loquacious, self-ap- 
pointed Middle East expert whom the Na- 
tional Security Council kept on retainer. He 
frequently vacationed in Israel and had de- 
veloped good contacts with senior govern- 
ment officials there. In early May 1985, 
Ledeen flew to Israel and met for nearly an 
hour with Peres. The Israeli prime minister 
expressed some displeasure with Israel's in- 
telligence on Iran and advocated that the two 
nations work together to improve both coun- 
tries' knowledge of Iran. Ledeen enthusiast- 
ically relayed this back to McFarlane. 

"A year or so ago," Kimche said, "we began 
talking with Iranians who are disaffected. 
We believe we have made contact with 
people who are both willing and able, over 
time and with support, to change the 

Kimche described an Iran close to col- 
lapse, with internal dissent rising. But the 
pro-Western moderates inside the 

government needed outside support, espe- 
cially from the United States. To show their 
bona fides, they offered to release the Amer- 
ican hostages in Lebanon, likely in exchange 
for some military equipment. "They are con- 
fident they can do this," Kimche ended. It 
seemed almost too good to be true— a poten- 
tial opening with Iranian moderates who 
could possibly steer Iran back toward the 
United States, in addition to the release of 
the Lebanon hostages. 

McFarlane mentioned Kimche's proposal 
to President Reagan a few days later. "Gosh, 
that's great news!" Reagan responded. He in- 
structed McFarlane to explore the matter 

Kimche's proposal was nothing new. The 
Israeli ambassador to Washington, Moshe 
Arens, had suggested a similar plan to use 
weapons to influence the Iranian govern- 
ment in October 1982. The Iran-Iraq War 
had put the two allies on opposite sides of 

the conflict. Despite Iran's support for 
Hezbollah, Israel viewed Saddam Hussein's 
Iraq as the greater of the two enemies. The 
Israeli government strongly opposed the 
Reagan administration's effort to secretly 
support Iraq and allow third-party countries 
to provide weapons. During the days of the 
shah, Israel and Iran had good relations, and 
many senior Israelis still harbored ideas of 
Iran's being a natural ally against their com- 
mon Arab foe. Israel repeatedly lobbied 
Reagan administration officials to endorse 
its arms-selling scheme as a means to im- 
prove relations with Iran. 3 

In the summer of 1985, agents working on 
behalf of the United States surreptitiously 
shipping arms to the Nicaraguan resistance 
stumbled on a warehouse in Lisbon, Por- 
tugal, with Israeli weapons headed for Iran. 
When confronted, a senior Israeli replied 
that they had not technically violated the ban 
on weapons to Iran because the arms were 

being shipped by a private company, with 
each aircraft dropping off arms also return- 
ing with Iranian Jews. The Israeli govern- 
ment permitted this because it would build 
credibility with moderate elements in the 
Iranian military that might grow strong 
enough to establish a more reasonable Irani- 
an government. 4 Now Kimche approached 
McFarlane to propose this same idea. 5 

Israel's contact within the Iranian regime 
was Manucher Ghorbanifar. Born in Iran in 
the early 1940s, this self-described export- 
import businessman made a comfortable liv- 
ing by peddling his services to various intelli- 
gence agencies, including the shah's Savak 
and Israel's Mossad. Short, stocky, with thin- 
ning hair and a round face, he had a forceful 
personality and the manner of a polished 
used-car salesman. 

In 1984, he approached a U.S. Army intel- 
ligence officer working in the Middle East, 
who in turn passed him off to the CIA's 

Tehfran operation in Frankfurt. Ghorbanifar 
claimed he had information about the recent 
kidnapping of William Buckley, the Beirut 
CIA station chief, and even more important, 
knowledge of a plot to assassinate candidates 
in the upcoming American presidential elec- 
tion. The CIA administered a polygraph to 
Ghorbanifar. He failed on every significant 
question. In June, the CIA station in Frank- 
furt administered another lie detector test to 
Ghorbanifar, but he failed that one too. 
Langley concluded he could not be trusted 
and issued a "burn notice," which notified all 
U.S. intelligence agencies to avoid using 

Ghorbanifar as an intelligence asset.- 

On Thursday, July 11, Ledeen met for 
lunch with Adolph "Al" Schwimmer, an Is- 
raeli arms merchant and adviser to Prime 
Minister Peres. Schwimmer told Ledeen that 
Ghorbanifar had access to the highest levels 
of government in Tehran, including senior 
cleric and reputed moderate Ayatollah 

Hassan Karoubi. In exchange for the seven 
hostages in Lebanon, Ghorbanifar proposed 
that the United States allow Israel to sell Iran 
around a hundred TOW antitank missiles. 
The swap of armaments for hostages would 
lead to improved relations with Khomeini's 
regime. Ledeen liked the idea, writing 
McFarlane that the TOW missiles were part 
of that process, "a demonstration of good 
faith and a sample of what would happen if 

Iran agreed to a rapprochement with us." z As 
the proposal came from the most senior level 
of the Israeli government, McFarlane did not 
look at the recommendations with too critic- 
al an eye. One hundred antitank missiles, he 
thought, certainly would not change the bal- 
ance of power in the Iran-Iraq War, and if it 
secured the Lebanese hostages and provided 
an opening with moderates in the regime, 
McFarlane believed the gains outweighed 

any risks. 

resident Reagan was supine in a bed at 

Bethesda Naval Hospital, just outside Wash- 
ington in suburban Maryland, recovering 
from the removal of a cancerous polyp in his 
colon. McFarlane went up to the president's 
room. Reagan sat up in his bed, tired but in 
good spirits. After discussing some new is- 
sues on arms control with the Soviets, 
McFarlane laid out the Israeli proposal. 
Reagan brightened at the prospect of releas- 
ing the hostages and said he understood why 
Iranians would want to overthrow Khomeini. 
Reagan encouraged his national security ad- 
viser to continue pursuing the Israeli open- 
ing. u 

Next, Kimche flew to Washington and met 
with McFarlane. Was the United States going 
to sell Iran the weapons? If not, Kimche 
pressed, "What if we [the Israelis] provide 
the weapons?" This passed the cost off to 
Washington but avoided placing the 

Americans in the awkward position of dir- 
ectly providing weapons to Iran. If Israel did 
this, Kimche wanted assurances that the Un- 
ited States would backfill their stock of TOW 

With Reagan back in the White House re- 
cuperating from his surgery, on the morning 
of August 6 he met with his senior advisers 
in the second-floor residence. The as- 
semblage sat at the far west end of the long 
main hallway in a comfortable, yellow- 
painted sitting room, beneath a large half- 
moon window overlooking the press office 
and the long white portico leading to the 
West Wing and Oval Office. Reagan, dressed 
in his bathrobe, presided over the meeting, 
sitting on a red flowery-patterned chair. 
McFarlane opened with a rundown on his 
meeting with Kimche and the Israeli offer to 
ship the TOWs in lieu of the United States, 
provided "we" backfill their missiles. 

Weinberger immediately opposed the idea. 
"I don't think it's legal." He went on, "Even if 
a third party shipped the missiles, it still re- 
quires notification of Congress." As far as an 
opening for Iran, he said, "Nothing indicates 
that there has been any slight change in the 
virulently anti-Western, anti-American atti- 
tude of those in charge of Iran." He added 
ominously, "It would open us up to black- 
mail by any one of those who knew."— 

Shultz and Weinberger detested each oth- 
er and were often at loggerheads over policy, 
but in this instance they found common 
cause. Shultz agreed with Weinberger's con- 
clusions. After carefully examining the idea, 
he concluded it would seriously undermine 
our public diplomacy to isolate Iran, and 
despite the pronouncements of this being a 
precursor to an opening with Iran, it looked 
to Shultz like a straight-out arms-for-host- 
ages deal. 

While Bill Casey did not attend that meet- 
ing, he was the one man who supported 
McFarlane. The CIA director shared similar 
concerns about Soviet influence in Iran and 
the prospects for wooing Iran with weapons. 
On May 17, 1985, CIA national intelligence 
officer Graham Fuller reinforced this view in 
a memo to Casey suggesting that the Iranian 
arms embargo might work against U.S. in- 
terests by moving the Iranians, who were 
desperately seeking arms on the world mar- 
ket to carry on their war with Iraq, toward a 
closer relationship with the Soviet Union. 

To Casey, what the national security ad- 
viser proposed simply rehashed the CIA's 
current tasking from the 1981 presidential 
finding, which required him to build con- 
duits inside Iran to influence the regime. 
After four years, access still plagued his 
agency. While they had developed their spy 
network in the country, it remained primar- 
ily composed of midgrade military officers 

and bureaucrats. They did not penetrate the 
veil of secrecy that surrounded the Islamic 
Republic. The true decision makers around 
Khomeini remained elusive. If the Israelis 
thought they had some new contacts that 
might help the CIA fulfill this mission, Casey 
supported them. Casey also worried about 
the fate of William Buckley, the CIA station 
chief held hostage by Hezbollah, whom he 
had encouraged to go to Lebanon in the 
wake of the 1983 embassy bombing. That 
spring, reports began filtering back to the 
agency that the Iranians were torturing 

Buckley.— If the Israelis thought that Ghorb- 
anifar might succeed in freeing Buckley, why 
not give it a try? 

President Reagan did not make a decision 
that morning but called McFarlane into the 
Oval Office several days later. As McFarlane 
later described it, "The President brooded 
quietly for a few moments. He pressed his 
fingertips tighter reflexively and stared at the 

carpet. Finally he looked up: 'Well, I've 
thought about it, and I want to go ahead with 

it. I think that's the right thing to do." - 

The idea of an opening to Iran had long 
appealed to the perennially optimistic pres- 
ident. During his first term, Reagan signed 
three letters on White House stationery, each 
delivered by a different country's foreign 
minister, to the Iranian government, urging 
them to improve relations with the United 

States. 13 While he had received no response, 
he believed the two religious countries re- 
mained natural allies against the Soviets, 
with a common cause in Afghanistan. The 
plight of the seven American hostages 
bothered Reagan. A naturally compassionate 
man, Reagan frequently let his heart, rather 
than his brain, govern his decisions. 

"The president always talked about the 
hostages, and at times it seemed that it was 
his greatest priority," Poindexter said later. 
"But the two dovetailed together. We would 

have tried reaching out to the Iranians even 

if we did not have the hostages." 14 

On August 20, 1985, an Israeli-chartered 
707 aircraft landed in Tehran with a pallet 
load of ninety-six U.S. -made TOW missiles. 
No hostages emerged from Lebanon. Ghorb- 
anifar, who accompanied the shipment to 
Iran, claimed that Revolutionary Guards had 
seized the missiles on the tarmac and ab- 
sconded with them; the weapons had failed 
to reach the desired moderates. During a 
contentious meeting in Europe, Ghorbanifar 
explained that the United States needed to 
send the second batch of four hundred 
TOWs in order to gain the release of one 
hostage. After a phone call between Reagan 
and McFarlane, Reagan agreed to ship the 
second batch of missiles. 

Early on the morning of September 15, 
another Israeli-chartered aircraft landed in 
the northwestern Iranian city of Tabriz 
loaded with 408 missiles. This time, 

Ghorbanifar came through. The Iranians 
offered to release one hostage, and the Un- 
ited States could decide which one. McFar- 
lane and Casey wanted Buckley, but through 
Ghorbanifar the Iranians relayed that 
Buckley was "too ill" to be released. Buckley 
had, in fact, been dead for nearly three 
months. McFarlane then requested Reverend 
Benjamin Weir, in part because his family 
had been outspoken critics of the adminis- 
tration's attempts to free the hostages. Thus 
far, 504 TOW missiles had yielded one 

In anticipation of the possible hostage re- 
lease, the Joint Staff began working on a 
contingency plan to secure the released 
Americans in Beirut and safely transport 
them out to Cyprus and back to the States. 
The nuts and bolts of working out the details 
within the National Security Council fell to 
forty-two-year-old Marine Lieutenant Colon- 
el Oliver North. Charismatic and energetic, 

North was a decorated and respected Viet- 
nam veteran. He arrived at the White House 
in 1981 as one of several military officers as- 
signed to an unadorned room on the third 
floor of the Old Executive Office Building ad- 
jacent to the West Wing. North would likely 
have gone on to a successful military career, 
but the excitement and power of his NSC po- 
sition seduced him, and he extended his tour 
at the White House, now in its fifth year. 
North, as the CIA's Robert Gates noted, had 
the deserved reputation as the "go-to guy to 
get things done." 

VJhorbanifar lied about a great many 

things, but the Israelis knew he had real ac- 
cess to senior officials in the Iranian govern- 
ment who desperately wanted American 
weapons. All of Iran's military equipment 
had come from the United States. After six 
years of war and an American-led arms 

embargo, chronic shortages existed in the 
stocks of munitions and spare parts needed 
to keep its war machine operating. With 
Iraq's superiority in airplanes and tanks, 
missiles to counter these were especially im- 
portant. While the Iranian government re- 
mained committed to winning the war and 
spreading the revolution, splits developed 
within the government between pragmatists 
and purists over approaching the West, in- 
cluding the United States, for the needed 
military hardware. A confidant of Ayatollah 
Khomeini's, speaker of the Iranian parlia- 
ment Hashemi Rafsanjani, led the realist 
camp. A corrupt but skilled political survivor 
who would later enrich himself by cornering 
Iran's pistachio exports, he had commanded 
the army earlier in the war. He had no 
qualms about trading with the Great Satan in 
order to win the war. If that led to improved 
relations, so be it. Prime Minister Mir-Hos- 
sein Mousavi supported Rafsanjani. An 

architect before the revolution, the stern 
Mousavi came more from the leftist body of 
the Islamist movement. He shared Rafsan- 
jani's views and advocated working with the 
Israelis, although he seemed guided more by 
the pressing needs of war than any opening 
with the West. 

On the other side of the divide sat the ap- 
pointed successor to the supreme leader, 
Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri. A liberal by 
Iranian standards, the learned theologian 
from Qom staunchly supported the revolu- 
tion, but he believed in a more liberal gov- 
ernment, one in which an Islamist jurist 
presided in a multiparty limited democracy. 
He later clashed with Khomeini over the 
heavy-handed tactics used to suppress op- 
ponents, especially the mass executions 
ordered by Khomeini in 1988. But in spite of 
his democratic persona, he had no interest in 
any rapprochement with the United States. 
He maintained his own armed militia, 

headed by the brother of his son-in-law, Me- 
hdi Hashemi. A thuggish dogmatist, 
Hashemi had served time in jail during the 
shah's rule for killing prostitutes and homo- 
sexuals. He remained totally dedicated to 
Montazeri and worked to export the revolu- 
tion to Lebanon through Hezbollah. 

Ayatollah Khomeini learned of the secret 
dealings with the Americans and Israelis 
after the shipment of the second batch of 
TOW missiles. He sided with the pragmatic 
Rafsanjani. What McFarlane had missed and 
Ghorbanifar had obfuscated was that a 
"moderate" wing never existed in Iran. Every 
faction leader knew of the dealings, and the 
supreme leader endorsed them. For 
Khomeini, it was never about a strategic 
opening but rather about beating Iraq and 
spreading the revolution. He had no com- 
punction about turning America's own 
weapons on their maker. 

Enticed, the Iranian pushed for more 
arms. Ghorbanifar's shopping list included 
advanced air-to-air missiles, Harpoon anti- 
ship missiles, and an improved variant of the 
American-made Hawk antiaircraft missile, 
which he falsely claimed Iran needed to 
counter Soviet Bear bombers that repeatedly 
violated Iranian airspace. It was the type of 
argument that might appeal to the Cold War 
hawks in the administration. 15 To sweeten 
the pot for the Americans, Ghorbanifar in- 
troduced Ledeen to Hassan Karoubi, whom 
Ghorbanifar claimed to be the leader of the 
"middle way," as he termed the supposed 
moderate faction within the Iranian govern- 
ment.— Karoubi claimed to be a close adviser 
to the supreme leader, spending three days a 

week at Khomeini's home. 12 He was the type 
of senior official that McFarlane hoped to 
contact. While McFarlane balked at selling 
some of the more sophisticated weapons, 

Reagan authorized eighty Hawk antiaircraft 
missiles to be sent to Iran via Israel. 

On the evening of November 22, Duane 
Clarridge awoke to a call from Oliver North. 
"Look, I've got a problem, and it involves 
Portugal. I need to see you right away." 
North and Clarridge were friends, occasion- 
ally meeting for a drink at a bar called Char- 
ley's Place in McLean, Virginia. A few 
hours after the phone call, the two men met 
at Clarridge's office at CIA headquarters. 
North explained that he needed Clarridge's 
assistance in facilitating an Israeli delivery of 
oil drilling equipment to Iran. In truth, the 
plane was carrying the Hawk missiles. It was 
to land in Portugal, where the missiles would 
be transferred to another, neutral aircraft be- 
fore being flown to Tehran. But Israel had 
sent the aircraft without obtaining landing 
rights, and the Portuguese government sus- 
pected the plane carried more than oil 

drilling equipment and prohibited the air- 
craft from landing in Lisbon. 

To avoid Portugal, Clarridge ordered air- 
craft from a CIA proprietary company, St. 
Lucia Airlines, to fly the missiles directly 
from Israel to Tehran. The plane, flown by a 
West German pilot, landed in Tehran in the 
wee hours of November 25. On the tarmac to 
meet the jet was no less than Prime Minister 
Mousavi. The smaller CIA aircraft could 
carry only eighteen missiles, and the Israelis 
had sent an antiquated version replete with 
Hebrew markings and the Star of David 
stenciled on each missile. Mousavi went bal- 
listic. He called Ghorbanifar, who in turn 
called Ledeen. Near hysterical, Ghorbanifar 
yelled repeatedly that the United States had 
cheated them. The Hawk debacle should 
have ended the entire Iran arms affair. In- 
stead, it only convinced those who supported 
it of the need for the United States to take a 
more direct role in the arms transfers. 

Un Saturday, November 30, 1985, Pres- 
ident Reagan had finished pruning a large 
walnut tree in the front yard of his ranch in 
California, when a letter addressed for his 
eyes only arrived. Bud McFarlane was ten- 
dering his resignation, stating the long- 
standing Washington rationale of wanting to 
spend more time with his family. In announ- 
cing McFarlane's departure to the press five 
days later, on December 4, President Reagan 
quipped prophetically: "I should warn you 
that I'll probably be calling on you from time 

to time for your wise counsel and advice." 19 
Reagan announced that McFarlane's deputy, 
Navy Vice Admiral John Poindexter, would 
be the new national security adviser, the 
fourth man to hold the position thus far in 
his administration. Poindexter was unques- 
tionably brilliant. He'd graduated first in his 
class at Annapolis before going on to earn a 

doctorate in nuclear physics from Caltech in 
1964. An incessant pipe smoker, he dis- 
played a quiet and reflective demeanor. But 
Weinberger believed Poindexter was out of 
his element as national security adviser: "He 
possessed no strong credentials in foreign 
policy." Poindexter had done an effective job 
at managing the NSC staff, however, and had 
proven to be a loyal subject to the White 
House. He also shared his good friend Bill 
Casey's disdain for congressional meddling 
in foreign affairs. 

Poindexter and Reagan had discussed the 
Israeli arms-transfer debacle in November. 
Both agreed that the Israelis had fouled up 
the shipment. The solution would be for the 
United States to take a more active role. On 
the morning of December 7, both Pearl Har- 
bor Day and the day of the annual Army- 
Navy game, Reagan met again with McFar- 
lane, Shultz, Weinberger, Poindexter, and 
CIA Deputy Director John McMahon, filling 

in for Casey, who was in New York being 
treated for cancer. The meeting degenerated 
into a remarkably freewheeling exchange 
between the president, Shultz, and Weinber- 
ger. Shultz made an impassioned argument 
against dealing with terrorists. "We need to 
put this operation aside," he said. "The oper- 
ation should be stopped. We are signaling to 
Iran that they can kidnap for profit." 

Reagan turned to Caspar Weinberger. 
"What do you think?" 

"Are you really interested in my opinion?" 
the defense secretary responded, knowing 
full well that the president knew he had op- 
posed the idea from the outset. 

"Yes," Reagan replied, without 

Weinberger echoed Shultz's comments 
and proceeded to blast continuing the Irani- 
an contacts. The Iranian regime remained 
viscerally anti-American. "This will under- 
mine Operation Staunch and our entire 

effort to contain Iran. We will lose all credib- 
ility with our allies. There are legal problems 
here, Mr. President, in addition to the policy 
problems. It violates the Arms Export Con- 
trol Act, even if done through the Israelis. It 
violates our arms embargo against Iran. It is 

illegal." 22 

Frustrated by Weinberger and Shultz's 
strenuous objections, Reagan replied, "Well, 
the American people will never forgive me if 
big, strong President Reagan passed up a 
chance to free the hostages over this legal 

"Then, Mr. President, visiting hours are on 
Thursday," Weinberger responded 


Reagan vacillated. Weinberger's handwrit- 
ten notes taken during the meeting reflect 
that the president believed any weapons 
would go to moderate elements within Iran 
and not to the Revolutionary Guard. At the 
end of the meeting, Weinberger believed his 

rare cooperation with Shultz had carried the 
day with the president. Upon his return to 
the Pentagon, his military adviser, Colin 
Powell, came in and asked how it went. 
Weinberger replied with a slight grin, "I be- 
lieve the baby has been strangled in its 

But Reagan remained reluctant to give up 
on what appeared to him to be the only 
thread of hope to secure the release of the 
hostages. Despite all the broken promises, 
the arms deals had secured the release of one 
of those held in Beirut; Reagan simply could 
not bring himself to admit there was little 
the United States could do to influence 
Hezbollah. 21 

"No one outside of the White House be- 
lieved that there were moderate Iranians we 
could work with," Poindexter recalled. "My 
view, and I think the president agreed with 
me, was that we should try." Bill Casey 

concurred. "It's risky," he told the president, 
"but most things worth doing are." 

Rather than strangling the Iran baby, the 
NSC under Poindexter gave it new life. On 
January 17, 1986, Reagan signed a new find- 
ing of covert action. It tasked the CIA with 
taking charge of the arms-transfer effort. The 
goal remained unchanged. Reagan wanted to 
strengthen moderate elements within the 
Iranian government "by demonstrating their 
ability to obtain requisite resources to defend 
their country against Iraq and intervention 

by the Soviet Union." 22 Rather than use Is- 
raeli weapons, the United States would sell 
the TOWs or Hawks directly to Iran through 
the Israelis, who in turn would transfer them 

to Ghorbanifar's intermediaries in Tehran. 23 

The CIA director brought in retired Air 
Force Major General Richard Secord to help 
facilitate the transfer of American weapons 
to Iran. An arms peddler, Secord was also 
providing weapons to the Contras for both 

Casey and North. The release of the hostages 
was listed as a tangential benefit in the find- 
ing, but this aspect remained paramount in 
Reagan's mind. As the president noted in his 
diary about signing the finding prior to head- 
ing to Bethesda for a physical: "Only thing 
waiting was NSC wanting decisions on our 
effort to get our five hostages out of Leban- 
on. Involves selling TOW anti-tank missiles 

to Iran. I gave a go ahead." 24 

Ghorbanifar relayed a new request from 
his contacts in Tehran. The Iranians wanted 
intelligence about Iraq. McMahon had gone 
over to the White House to see Poindexter 
and voice his strong objection to providing 
Iran with any intelligence. "Providing de- 
fense missiles was one thing," McMahon ar- 
gued, "but when we provide intelligence on 
the Iraqi order of battle, we are giving the 
Iranians the wherewithal for offense action." 
This could cause the Iranians to win the war, 
with "cataclysmic results" for the United 

States. Poindexter did not dispute this, but 
countered that it was an opportunity that 
should be explored, adding, "A map of Iraqi 
order of battle is perishable anyway." 

That afternoon, North met with the CIA's 
Robert Gates, John McMahon, and Tom 
Twetten to discuss what type of intelligence 
to provide Iran. Gates called over a secure 
phone to Charles Allen, an experienced CIA 
officer assigned as the national intelligence 
officer for counterterrorism, requesting that 
he work with some analysts in the Near East 
Division to put together some limited intelli- 
gence for Iran. The request, Gates stated, 
was coming from the White House, but he 
emphasized to Allen to make sure that the 
intelligence provided "would give no signific- 
ant advantage to the Iranian military." 25 

The next day, Allen handed Gates a map 
laying out the disposition of Iraqi forces 
along the Iranian border, including the loca- 
tions of Iraqi division headquarters and key 

military installations.— To try to mitigate the 
damage, it showed details of one Iraqi divi- 
sion's front line in central Iraq, well away 
from the decisive southern front near Basra. 
A few days later, it was passed to Ghorbani- 
far and then into the hands of the Iranian 
military, who used the windfall to launch a 
night attack that drove the Iraqi forces back 
a mile and a half. Iraq had to commit its 
corps armored reserves to restore the front 
line, which it managed to accomplish but at 

the cost of over one thousand casualties. 22 
Iran was also given the complete order of 
battle of Iraqi ground and air forces, the in- 
formation coming from the unwitting De- 
fense Intelligence Agency. 

The CIAs rank and file distrusted Ghorb- 
anifar. Charlie Allen met with Ghorbanifar at 
Ledeen's home on January 13 to ascertain 
the Iranian's true knowledge of the Iranian 
government. Allen concluded that the 
Iranian businessman was a "cheat and a 

crook." 22 This feeling was shared by the head 
of the Iran desk, Jack Devine, who requested 
another polygraph. Ghorbanifar failed again 
on thirteen of fifteen key questions regarding 
his access and the accuracy of his statements 
about the Iranian government. But the CIA 
director remained committed to the enter- 
prise. Ghorbanifar might be exaggerating his 
influence within the Iranian government, but 
if he could provide any credible access to the 
government, it was worth the risk. "Well, 
maybe this is a con man's con man," Casey 
countered. And with that the operation went 

forward. 32 

With the president's finding, an unhappy 
Weinberger directed Powell to work with the 
army to transfer four thousand TOW mis- 
siles to the CIA. Powell coordinated the de- 
livery with the vice chief of staff of the army, 

General Maxwell Thurman. 31 On February 
15, an unassuming white aircraft with 
"Southern Air Transport" adorning its 

fuselage picked up the first batch of five hun- 
dred TOW missiles at Kelly Air Force Base, 
near San Antonio, Texas, and flew them to 
Israel. There, a ground crew transferred the 
TOWs to an Israeli plane for the final leg to 
Iran, arriving on February 17. Ten days later, 
a second installment of five hundred TOWs 
arrived at the joint military-civilian airport at 
Bandar Abbas. Despite one thousand mis- 
siles sold to Iran, not one hostage emerged 
from the back alleys of Beirut. 

North and Poindexter, however, remained 
optimistic. On February 25, Ghorbanifar ar- 
ranged a meeting at the Sheraton Hotel in 
Frankfurt between North and an adviser 
from Prime Minister Mousavi's office, 
Mohsen Kangarlou, accompanied by an Ira- 
nian Revolutionary Guard officer, Ali Samii, 
and two senior Iranian military intelligence 
officers. Two days of talks ensued, with the 
Americans pushing for the release of the 
hostages and a very suspicious Kangarlou 

advocating for the United States to provide 
Iran advanced air-to-air missiles for its fleet 
of F-14 fighters. North gave the Iranians the 
CIA-produced map of Iraqi units positioned 
along the central front and repeatedly tried 
to impress upon them the threat posed to 
their country by the Soviet Union, hoping it 
would strengthen the possible cooperation 
between the United States and Iran in the 
Cold War. The meeting adjourned with both 
sides agreeing to another high-level meeting 
on the Iranian Persian Gulf island of Kish. 

North sent an upbeat e-mail to McFar- 
lane's home classified computer: "While all 
this could be so much smoke, I believe that 
we may well be on the verge of a major 
breakthrough— not on the hostages/terror- 
ism but on the relationship as a whole." 32 

"Roger Ollie," McFarlane replied to 
North's e-mail. "Well done— if the world only 
knew how many times you have kept a semb- 
lance of integrity and gumption to U.S. 

policy, they would make you Secretary of 

Nothing in this tortuous affair developed 
as planned. The meeting at Kish never ma- 
terialized. Now Ghorbanifar demanded an 
array of even more weapons be sent to Iran. 
This included 240 different spare-part items 
for Hawk missiles, air-to-air missiles, and 
sophisticated Harpoon antiship missiles. 
North accepted this request and worked out 
a convoluted scheme whereby money, host- 
ages, and weapons would be exchanged in a 
series of sequential operations, but this too 
failed to move beyond discussions. 

Casey decided to augment North and as- 
signed the CIA's elder Iran analyst, George 
Cave, to the Iran initiative in March 1986. 
Casey had argued that they needed an exper- 
ienced operations officer fluent in Farsi. 
Cave held a dim view of Ghorbanifar, having 
witnessed his failed polygraph test in 

January, and was incredulous that the Israel- 
is had vouched for him. 

Cave flew to Paris and met with Ghorbani- 
far and the new Israeli interlocutor, Amiram 
Nir. In his mid-thirties, good-looking with 
thick curly black hair, Nir briefly served as a 
military correspondent on Israeli television 
before casting his political lot with the Labor 
Party. In 1984, Peres elevated him to adviser 
on counterterrorism. In this capacity, he 
worked closely with Oliver North during the 
Achille Lauro hijacking and, in the fall of 
1985, played a supporting role for Kimche in 
working with Washington on selling 
weapons to Iran. Nir's role would be to keep 
the Americans using Ghorbanifar. 

Cave pulled Nir aside and asked, "Have 
you fully vetted Ghorbanifar?" 

"Yes, he's trustworthy," Nir answered, but 
Cave remained unconvinced. 

Knowledge of both the presidential covert 
action finding and the subsequent arms 

shipments remained tightly held by the NSC 
and the CIA. Worried that the NSA might 
uncover the details of the arms transfers, 
Oliver North wanted access to any intercep- 
ted communications limited, and ordered 
the agency's director, William Odom, to ex- 
clude both Shultz and Weinberger. To 
North's annoyance, Odom refused. "I work 
for the defense secretary and the president, 
not Bill Casey or OUie North," the stubborn 
Odom replied. He had the pertinent inter- 
cepts hand carried to Powell. "Weinberger 
knew of each transfer within a few days by 

the signals intercepts." 33 

Odom considered offering the same in- 
formation to Secretary Shultz, but the secret- 
ary of state refused. He vigorously opposed 
the arms deals, and the less he knew, the 
happier and better Shultz felt. But his de- 
partment certainly knew of the gist of the 
dealings. Assistant Secretary of Defense 
Armitage spoke daily to his counterpart at 

State, Arnold Raphel, about the significant 
developments from the intelligence reports 

on the secret dealings with Iran. 34 

Odom thought the entire idea was fool- 
hardy. In Weinberger's office one afternoon, 
the two men discussed the arms-for-hostages 
operation. "You know this is going to leak, 
and I hate to say it, but it is going to cause a 
great crisis," said Odom. "Why don't you go 
over and convince the president to call it off. 
There is no chance it will succeed." 

"Bill, I've tried," a frustrated Weinberger 
replied. "He just can't be convinced." 

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Willi- 
am Crowe remained the one man in the dark 
on the shenanigans. He accidently dis- 
covered the affair in July 1986. His executive 
assistant, Lieutenant General John Moeller- 
ing, had attended an NSC meeting in which 
North let slip a reference to Iranian arms 
sales. After the meeting, he and Rich Armit- 
age drove back to the Pentagon together. 

"What was that reference to Iran and 
arms?" Moellering asked. 

"You don't know what they've concocted? 
When we get back, come up to my office and 
I'll fill you in." 

Moellering promptly told Crowe, who con- 
fronted Weinberger. 

"I was against it," shrugged Weinberger, 
"but the decision had been made and the 
president wasn't going to change his mind. I 
saw no point in bringing you in." 35 

n April, Ghorbanifar appeared to 

achieve a breakthrough. He returned from 
Iran and proposed a meeting in Tehran with 
senior Iranian officials, including a meeting 
with the speaker of the Iranian parliament, 
Rafsanjani, and Prime Minister Mousavi as 
part of a final exchange of weapons for the 
hostages. Initially, Cave and North were to 

fly first to Tehran with Ghorbanifar to lay the 
groundwork for the larger meeting with 
McFarlane. Ghorbanifar offered use of a Lear 
jet and a house to stay in in Tehran. But 
Poindexter overruled this as too risky, per- 
haps fearing news would leak before McFar- 
lane's more important meeting. 3 ^ 

North sent a memo to Poindexter: "I be- 
lieve we have succeeded. Thank God— he an- 
swers prayers." 32 

At eight thirty in the morning on May 25, 
1986, an unmarked Israeli aircraft piloted by 
the CIA touched down at the airport in 
Tehran. The U.S. delegation consisted of Bud 
McFarlane, Oliver North, George Cave, NSC 
staff member Howard Teicher, Israeli 
Amiram Nir (pretending to be an American), 
and a CIA communicator who provided se- 
cure communications for the entourage back 
to Poindexter in Washington. Their plane 
carried one pallet of Hawk missile parts, with 
another aircraft filled with twelve more 

pallets standing by in Israel to be sent the 
minute the hostages were released. An Irani- 
an airport guard ushered the group into a 
VIP lounge. Here they waited for someone to 
appear, content to make polite small talk 
with the Iranian base commander, who en- 
tertained them with an air show using some 
of his F-4S, having recently received a ship- 
ment of spare parts from the West. 

In fact, the U.S. visit caught the Iranians 
completely by surprise. Despite the agree- 
ment and having relayed the day of McFar- 
lane's arrival, the Iranians did not really 
think the Americans would come. When the 
Revolutionary Guard heard of this strange 
delegation's appearance in Tehran, they sent 
men over to the old U.S. embassy to examine 
the personnel files. They scanned them and 
could find no one named McFarlane or 
North, but did see a George Cave. So they 

agreed to meet with the Americans. 

More than an hour later, Ghorbanifar ap- 
peared with Kangarlou in tow, both men 
looking harried. Ghorbanifar made an excuse 
about the Americans arriving early and es- 
corted them to several old cars that would 
serve as their humble motorcade. They drove 
to the old Hilton Hotel— now called 
Independence Hotel— where the Revolution- 
ary Guard had hastily cleared the entire top 
floor for the unexpected American delega- 
tion. A secure message transmitted to the 
White House regarding their arrival stated, 
"We have been treated politely, though heav- 
ily escorted by Revolutionary Guard types 
who are also physically and technically sur- 
veilling our rooms." 39 

The first meeting began at five p.m. Three 
Iranians arrived, none of whom appeared to 
be either polished or senior officials. The Ira- 
nians opened with a litany of grievances and 
American transgressions. Regardless, 
McFarlane put that aside and began with 

rehearsed remarks designed to get the nego- 
tiations moving. 

President Reagan had asked him to do 
what was necessary to find common ground 
for discussions in the future, to try to find 
common ground for cooperation, McFarlane 
told the Iranians. The United States had no 
desire to reverse the Iranian Revolution and 
was willing to work with the government. 

Very quickly, however, it became apparent 
that the two sides were operating from com- 
pletely different views on what had been 
agreed to. The United States expected the 
hostages to be released immediately, and be- 
fore any more Hawk missile parts arrived. 
The Iranians thought that the United States 
intended to provide them a vast array of 
weapons and spare parts, with the hostages 
to be released at a later date. It became ap- 
parent to Cave that Ghorbanifar had prom- 
ised the Iranians much more in the way of 

weapons than the United States would ever 
agree to. Ghorbanifar had lied to both sides. 

In a message sent to Poindexter, McFar- 
lane relayed his view of the Iranian govern- 
ment: "It might be best for us to try to pic- 
ture what it would be like if after a nuclear 
attack, a surviving tailor became vice presid- 
ent; a recent grad student became secretary 
of state; and a bookie became the inter- 
locutor for all discourse with foreign coun- 
tries. While the principals are a cut above 
this level of qualification, the incompetence 
of the Iranian government to do business re- 
quires a rethinking on our part of why there 
have been so many frustrating failures to de- 
liver on their part." 40 

When McFarlane threatened to leave, the 
Iranians promised him a meeting with an of- 
ficial of greater stature. A short time later, a 
member of the parliament and a senior polit- 
ical adviser to Rafsanjani, Hadi Najafabadi, 
arrived on the fifteenth floor of the old 

Hilton Hotel to meet with the Americans. A 
short, bearded man, Najafabadi immediately 
impressed the delegation. A mullah who had 
taken off his turban, he was several cuts 
above the other Iranians: confident, Western 
educated, cultured, and able to converse in 
excellent English. 

McFarlane repeated why they were in Iran 
and his hopes that this would create the be- 
ginning of a renewed friendship and a stra- 
tegic opening between the two nations. He 
stressed the threat of the Soviet Union to 
Iran. He told them that the United States 
knew about a planned Soviet invasion and 
that the Soviets had already conducted two 
rehearsals. The United States had a high- 
level source, a Soviet major general named 
Vladimir, who confirmed the Soviet inten- 
tions. This was pure fabrication, concocted 
on the plane ride over, but it drove home the 
theme the United States wanted to leave with 

the Iranians: that Moscow, not Washington, 
posed the greater risk to Iranian security. 

McFarlane handed over to Najafabadi a 
slickly produced packet of intelligence de- 
veloped by the CIA on Soviet forces arrayed 
along the Iranian border. He then informed 
the Iranian that the Soviets had recently told 
their rival, Saddam Hussein, that they would 
do everything in their power to keep Iraq 
from losing the war. McFarlane conveniently 
left out that American public diplomacy was 
doing the same thing for Iraq. 

Najafabadi agreed with McFarlane's as- 
sessment of the Soviet threat. He also im- 
pressed upon his American counterpart the 
risk his own government took in meeting 
with the Americans. It all looked hopeful. 
McFarlane cabled Poindexter with a slightly 
optimistic message: "Have finally reached a 
competent Iranian official.... We are on the 
way to something that can become a truly 
strategic gain for us at the expense of the 

Soviets. But it is going to be painfully 
slow." 41 

Najafabadi added new conditions set by 
Hezbollah for the hostages' release. This in- 
cluded Israeli evacuation of the Golan 
Heights, monetary compensation, and re- 
lease of seventeen Shiite prisoners who had 
been arrested for participation in a massive 
series of bombings in Kuwait in July 1983. 
The American delegation convened out on a 
balcony to avoid the presumed microphones 
in the hotel rooms. No one could be sure 
whether the Iranians were simply trying to 
extract more concessions or had difficulties 
controlling their surrogates. McFarlane stuck 
to his instructions from Poindexter. He in- 
sisted on the hostages' release first and no 

new preconditions. 42 

On Tuesday, May 27, talks continued. The 
two sides wrangled over sending the Hawk 
spare parts immediately or an immediate re- 
lease of the hostages. Late in the afternoon, a 

conciliatory Najafabadi arrived bearing 
"good news." The Lebanese captives had 
dropped all their demands except release of 
their colleagues in Kuwait. He then pleaded 
for the United States to immediately send 
the spare parts to Iran. The Americans could 
not deliver on this, but drafted a proposed 
statement they hoped would satisfy the Ira- 
nians, saying the United States would "work 
to achieve a release and fair treatment for 
Shiites held in confinement." It did not, but 
talks continued well into the next morning. 
They were like two parties haggling in the 
bazaar. McFarlane threatened to leave if all 
the hostages were not returned, and Naja- 
fabadi and the other Iranians offered two 
hostages immediately in return for more 
missile spare parts. After a phone call with 
Poindexter around one thirty in the morning, 
McFarlane gave the Iranians until four a.m. 
to free all the hostages. If they did, an air- 
craft carrying the remainder of the Hawk 

spare parts would arrive in Tehran at ten 
a.m. If not, the U.S. delegation would leave. 
The Iranians balked, pleading for more time; 
McFarlane gave them until six thirty. When 
no hostages emerged, the U.S. delegation ate 
breakfast and packed up to go to the airport. 

A visibly exhausted Najafabadi again 
asked for more time. "The hostages are not 
in our control." 

"You have our position," McFarlane 
replied. "When you can meet it, let me 

Privately, the Americans worried the Irani- 
ans might try to hold them hostage, but the 
real threat came from opponents of the talks 
within the regime. News spread of the arrival 
of McFarlane and the Americans. Not every- 
one liked it. Mehdi Hashemi organized a 
mob to go and get the Americans. At about 
eight a.m., his mob of vigilantes formed and 
began moving toward the hotel. Kangarlou 
came into the hotel and yelled at Cave, "Get 

everyone up. You need to leave immedi- 
ately!" The Iranians brought three nondes- 
cript jalopies and they drove McFarlane's 
group by backstreets to the military side of 
the airport. Had Hashemi succeeded, Reagan 
would have had his own hostage crisis. 

Just as Cave boarded the aircraft, a senior 
Revolutionary Guard intelligence officer, 
Feridoun Mehdi-Nejat, approached Cave and 
begged him to stay a few more days. The two 
intelligence officers had warmed to each oth- 
er during the three days of talks. "Let's stay 
in touch," he told Cave. Cave nodded in 

As he prepared to board the plane, McFar- 
lane told one of the Iranians that this was the 
fourth time they had failed to honor an 
agreement. "Our lack of trust will endure for 
a long time. An important opportunity has 
been lost." With that the cabin door closed 
and the four-engine 707 taxied down the 
runway, taking off at 8:55 a.m. 

President Reagan followed the McFarlane 
mission closely. After being informed of the 
failure of the mission, President Reagan 
wrote in his diary, "It seems the rug mer- 
chants and the Hisballah [sic] would only 
agree to 2 hostages. Bud told them to shove 
it, went to the airport and left for Tel Aviv. 
This was a heartbreaking disappointment for 

all of us." 43 

The failure of the meeting in Tehran 
should have ended the affair. McFarlane re- 
commended as much to Reagan when he 
back-briefed the president upon his return to 
Washington. Reagan refused to concede de- 
feat. Ghorbanifar and Nir continued to en- 
courage the policy, and they found a willing 
accomplice in North, who zealously contin- 
ued to work the scheme. 

On July 26, Hezbollah released Father 
Lawrence Jenco, the director of Catholic Re- 
lief in Lebanon, after 564 days in harsh cap- 
tivity. Ghorbanifar had promised the 

Iranians the remaining twelve pallets of 
Hawk missile parts when they ordered 
Jenco's release. For William Casey, this val- 
idated Ghorbanifar. "It is indisputable," he 
wrote, "that the Iranian connection actually 
worked this time." Casey attributed this suc- 
cess to Nir sitting on Ghorbanifar. Casey, 
while not pleased with the deal Ghorbanifar 
had arranged, recommended continuing 
with the arms deliveries as a means of secur- 
ing the release of more hostages. Absent 
from the director's arguments was any men- 
tion of the strategic opening to counter the 
Soviet Union that he had so firmly advocated 

since the spring of 1985. 44 

Jenco carried with him a videotape from 
another hostage, David Jacobsen, criticizing 
Reagan for not doing enough to free the 
hostages. Reagan took this personally; he an- 
guished over the hostages' plight and bristled 
at the accusation that he or his administra- 
tion was not doing enough to secure their 

release. On July 29, Reagan called Father 
Jenco to convey his regards, extending him 
an invitation to visit the White House, which 
he did in what Reagan called "an emotional 
experience" on August 4. Moved by Father 
Jenco, Reagan approved sending the remain- 
ing twelve pallets of Hawk missile parts to 
Iran. They arrived from Israel on August 4. 
The entire operation had now degenerated 
into purely an arms-for-hostages 

x oindexter believed the United States 
needed a new conduit into the Iranian gov- 
ernment. Frustrated, he wanted a second 
channel to cut out Nir, the Israelis, and 
Ghorbanifar. Poindexter authorized North to 
seek a new opening shortly after the Tehran 
meeting. After considerable effort by North's 
team, they met with Ali Hashemi Bahramani, 
a nephew of Hashemi Rafsanjani and a 

Revolutionary Guard officer with a distin- 
guished combat record against Iraq. 
Bahramani was smart and well versed in 
Western politics and Middle Eastern affairs. 
He advocated better relations with the West 
and showed his desires by frequently visiting 
Europe. On August 25, Bahramani met in 
Brussels with Secord and an Iranian expatri- 
ate working with Secord, Albert Hakim. This 
second channel was not well received in Is- 
rael, but the nephew of Rafsanjani promised 
better access to the Iranian regime, without 
all the double-talk of Ghorbanifar. 

On September 19, Bahramani and two Re- 
volutionary Guard officers, including 
Feridoun Mehdi-Nejat, whom Cave had met 
with McFarlane in Tehran, arrived in Wash- 
ington for an extraordinary meeting with the 
Americans. The supreme leader had person- 
ally approved Bahramani's visit, and it re- 
quired considerable effort on the American 
side, with North coordinating with both the 

FBI and the CIA to get the Iranian delegation 
into the United States. But on that day, the 
nephew of the Iranian speaker sat in Ollie 
North's office in the Old Executive Office 
Building next to the White House. 

Two days of talks followed. The two sides 
found common ground on a number of is- 
sues. Bahramani echoed American concerns 
about the Soviet Union and offered a 
captured Soviet-built T-72 tank to examine. 
His government wanted strategic coopera- 
tion with the United States, he said, and he 
proposed forming a joint committee between 

the two nations to resolve their differences. 45 
The first task set for the joint committee 
would be to work out establishing commer- 
cial arrangements. After this was in effect, 
perhaps six months later, the two nations 
would reestablish diplomatic representation. 
Bahramani proposed ways the two nations 
could support the mujahideen in Afgh- 
anistan. He offered to establish a base inside 

Iran to facilitate the flow of American 
weapons to the mujahideen. One of the seni- 
or Revolutionary Guard officers stunned 
Cave. One day he said he was pleased that 
the Americans had started to provide ad- 
vanced Stinger missiles to the mujahideen, 
since Iran had just acquired ten of them 
from their own sources in the mujahideen, 
later determined to be Ismail Khan. 

Bahramani brought a laundry list of 
weapons and parts. This included the ever 
popular Hawk missile parts and ten thou- 
sand rounds of advanced, extended-range ar- 
tillery ammunition for their U.S. -manufac- 
tured howitzers. North reassured Bahramani 
that they could ship much of this as soon as 
the hostage issue was resolved. While the 
Iranian demurred on achieving their release, 
both sides generally agreed to the premise of 
a tit-for-tat exchange of hostages and 

North provided the Iranians with a CIA- 
prepared annotated map, replete with talk- 
ing points discussing the general location of 
Iraqi forces behind the front lines, as well as 
some additional information on Soviet 
forces. But rather than give them anything 
based upon imagery, the units were placed 
on a commercially available, fifteen-year-old 
map of Iraq. 

George Cave and the younger Bahramani 
developed a friendly rapport. During one 
meeting with Cave, Bahramani laid three let- 
ters on the table in front of Cave, each a copy 
of one of the letters signed by Reagan urging 
better relations. "Did you really send these 

"Yes," Cave answered, surprised that the 
Iranians apparently did not realize their 

Bahramani then asked Cave for American 
assistance in bringing about a cease-fire with 

Iraq, before adding that they wanted to 
launch one last offensive to take Basra. 

"Well, what are you going to do if you take 
Basra?" Cave asked. 

"Of course we will declare an independent 
Shia state for Iraq with Basra as the capital!" 
he answered without hesitation. "He was too 
young and naive to realize he was saying too 
much," Cave later chuckled. 

After the first day of talks, North gave the 
Iranians a private tour of the West Wing. The 
group wandered across the street from the 
Old Executive Office Building and into the 
side entrance to the White House proper. 
They walked past the hallway leading down 
to the White House Situation Room and up 
to the next floor, past the Cabinet Room and 
the Roosevelt Room. There Bahramani and 
his two Revolutionary Guard companions 
gazed into the Oval Office, prevented from 
entering this American sanctum only by a 
felt rope. 

Both North and Cave thought the meetings 
had gone well. North wrote to Poindexter, 
"We appear to be in contact with the highest 
levels of the Iranian government." North ex- 
uberantly compared Reagan with Theodore 
Roosevelt, who received the Nobel Peace Pr- 
ize for ending the Russo-Japanese War in 
1905. "Anybody for RR [Ronald Reagan] get- 
ting the same prize?" 4 ^ 

When the Iranians left, Cave went to Poin- 
dexter's office. The CIA veteran believed 
Bahramani to be earnest in his desire for bet- 
ter relations. "I think we will get two or three 
hostages out," he reported. Cave thought that 
this channel might just lead to the diplomat- 
ic breakthrough the president craved. 

Talks continued in October. Once again, 
they broke down into a series of exchanges: 
five hundred TOW missiles for one hostage. 
Then the United States would approach the 
Kuwaitis about releasing at least some of the 
seventeen Iranian-backed terrorists held in 

their jail for the bombings in 1983. Then an- 
other five hundred TOWs would be sent to 
Iran, followed by at least one more hostage. 
Then the United States would consider send- 
ing artillery ammunition and provide more 
intelligence on Iraq, with Iran promising to 
do its "utmost to secure the release of the re- 
maining hostages." 42 On October 28, 1986, 
the first batch of five hundred TOW missiles 
arrived in Iran. Five days later, the Lebanese 

released hostage David Jacobsen. 4 ^ 

In September and October, three more 
Americans were kidnapped in rapid succes- 
sion—likely to replace the ones released— off 
the streets of Beirut: Frank Reed, Joseph Ci- 
cippio, and Edward Tracy. More than a year 
of providing weapons to Iran had yielded 
three hostages released, and three hostages 
taken— a net gain of zero with the terrorists 
in Lebanon. 

The day after Jacobsen's release, the Le- 
banese magazine al-Shiraa ran a story about 

McFarlane's secret mission to Tehran. While 
inaccurate in several important details— such 
as the date of the meeting— it exposed the 
back-channel meetings between Iran and the 
United States. Cave suspected Ghorbanifar 
had leaked it, since he remained friendly 
with all the political rivals in Tehran. But the 
clear culprit was Ayatollah Montazeri. In 
October, authorities had arrested Mehdi 
Hashemi for kidnapping a Syrian diplomat. 
In retaliation, his supporters leaked the de- 
tails of the secret dealings to embarrass 

The next day, Rafsanjani admitted the 
McFarlane visit during a speech marking the 
seventh anniversary of the takeover of the 
U.S. embassy in Tehran. He revealed that the 
Americans brought a "key-shaped cake to be 
a key to resumed relations," adding, "but the 

kids were hungry and ate the cake." 49 As 
Weinberger had warned over a year earlier, 

the Iran arms sales had leaked, starting a 
feeding frenzy in the media. 

The Reagan administration initially denied 
and obfuscated. On November 6, during an 
immigration reform bill signing in the 
Roosevelt Room just across the hallway from 
the Oval Office, a reporter asked, "Mr. Pres- 
ident, do we have a deal going with Iran of 
some sort?" Reagan responded with the first 
of several misleading statements: "No com- 
ment." Then he cautioned the press about 
engaging in speculation "on a story that 
came out of the Middle East, and that to us 
has no foundation— all of that is making it 
more difficult for us in our effort to get the 

other hostages free." 52 

On November 10, Reagan met with his 
senior foreign policy team in the Oval Office 
to discuss the Iranian arms revelations and 
what they should tell the public. It would be 
the first airing of the details of the arms 
deals and the first senior-level meeting on 

the topic in nearly a year. Despite the grave 
looks around the room, President Reagan 
characteristically tried to keep the mood 
light; he and Vice President Bush exchanged 
some reasonably raunchy jokes. The meeting 
began with Poindexter providing an over- 
view of the last year, the presidential finding 
signed in January and the arms sales that 
had ensued. Both Weinberger and Shultz ex- 
pressed surprise upon hearing of both the 
presidential finding and the extent of the 
arms transactions with the Iranians. "I did 
not know of that," Shultz pointedly told 
Poindexter. In the case of the secretary of 
state, it was a true statement, but Weinber- 
ger knew about most of the details from the 
NSA intercepts provided by General Odom. 
Shultz lambasted the entire Iranian overture: 
"The Israelis sucked us up into their opera- 
tion so we could not object to their sales to 
Iran," he said, then adding, "It is the re- 
sponsibility of the government to look after 

its citizens, but once you do a deal for host- 
ages, you expose everyone to future cap- 
ture." 51 

Reagan remained in denial. "We did not 
do any trading with the enemy for our host- 
ages. The old bastard [Khomeini] will be 
gone someday, and we want better leverage 
with the new government. Actually," Reagan 
added, "the captors do not benefit at all. We 
buy the support and the opportunity to per- 
suade the Iranians." 

Neither Reagan nor Poindexter wanted to 
reveal all the details, as it would only hinder 
the release of more hostages and endanger 
those in Iran who had cooperated with the 
operation. Weinberger cautioned that "we 
have given the Israelis and the Iranians the 
opportunity to blackmail us by reporting se- 
lectively bits and pieces of the total story." 

At 8:01 p.m. on November 13, President 
Reagan addressed the nation from the Oval 
Office in a prime-time speech. "Good 

evening," he began. "I know you've been 
reading, seeing, and hearing a lot of stories 
in the past several days attributed to Danish 
sailors, unnamed observers. ..and especially 
unnamed government officials of my admin- 
istration. Well, you're going to hear the facts 
from a White House source, and you know 
my name." 

An indignant Reagan continued, "The 
charge has been made that the United States 
has shipped weapons to Iran as ransom pay- 
ment for the release of American hostages in 
Lebanon, undercut its allies, and secretly vi- 
olated American policy against trafficking 
with terrorists. These charges are utterly 
false." He laid out in broad terms the trans- 
actions with the Iranians, focusing solely on 
their role as a strategic initiative with Iran to 
end the Iran-Iraq War and as part of a larger 
containment strategy against the Soviets. He 
had authorized sending McFarlane to Iran 
when negotiations appeared promising, 

comparing this trip to Kissinger's secret trip 
to China as part of that diplomatic opening. 
The president bristled at the rumors that the 
United States had provided "boatloads or 
planeloads" full of American weapons to Iran 
to spare the hostages. Reagan admitted, 
though, that the United States had provided 
a small amount of "defensive" weapons, but 
these modest deliveries, taken together, 
could easily fit into a single cargo plane. 

At best, Reagan told the American public 
half-truths. An underpinning of the entire 
overture with Iran centered on hostages, 
most especially with the president. While Ca- 
sey and McFarlane saw it through the lens of 
a strategic influence in Tehran, Reagan's 
private discussions and personal diary my- 
opically viewed the negotiations as an effort 
to free the hostages, with the by-product be- 
ing better relations with the mullahs. In the 
last six months of the North-led effort, it had 
degenerated into a purely arms-for-hostages 

deal, personally approved by President 
Reagan. Whether the president deliberately 
lied or was merely self-delusional remains 
debatable, but the United States had not only 
negotiated with a declared terrorist regime, 
but sold senior officers of the military arm of 
the Islamic Revolution— the Revolutionary 
Guard— planeloads of advanced weapons 
that could easily be used for offensive action. 
They had even provided them a tour of the 
White House. 

The ramifications of the arms-for-hostages 
affair were not confined to Washington. The 
supreme leader's handpicked successor, 
Ayatollah Montazeri, stridently opposed any 
dealings with the United States. He publicly 
called for the execution of all those who had 
met with the Americans. Since Khomeini had 
sanctioned those activities, he defended their 
actions as a necessity based upon the press- 
ing needs of the war. The two religious lead- 
ers exchanged a series of letters in which 

their disagreement aired before the Iranian 
public. Khomeini removed Montazeri as his 
successor and ordered the execution of Me- 
hdi Hashemi and several of his followers, 
despite pleas for clemency by Montazeri. 

With the covert opening fully exposed, 
Reagan ordered the State Department to 
take charge of any new talks with the Irani- 
ans. Charles Dunbar, a Foreign Service of- 
ficer ignorant of any of the previous discus- 
sions with the Iranians, joined George Cave 
to meet with Feridoun Mehdi-Nejat on 
December 13 in Frankfurt. Dunbar stuck to 
his instructions. The strategic concerns re- 
garding the Soviet Union that had led to the 
arms transfers remained unchanged. 
However, there would be no further arms 
transfers and no normalization of relations 
while Iran continued to countenance hostage 
taking and supported terrorism. Mehdi-Ne- 
jat tried to ingratiate himself to the Americ- 
ans. Iran remained committed to continuing 

the strategic opening. He pressed for the Un- 
ited States to abide by earlier discussions re- 
garding providing more weapons and advoc- 
ating for the release of the Dawa terrorists 
held in Kuwait in exchange for Iran using its 
influence to get hostages released. The two 

parties had finally reached an impasse. 52 

Dunbar returned to the States; Cave stayed 
in Europe to visit his grandchildren. On 
December 14, Cave received a call in his 
hotel room. On the other end was Mehdi-Ne- 
jat. He urgently wanted to meet with Cave 
the next morning. Cave agreed, as the two 
men had become friendly over the past year. 

Mehdi-Nejat said he had talked with his 
superiors (although Cave suspected he'd 
spoken to a senior Iranian in Frankfurt). 
"Tehran is most anxious to push forward and 
is interested in how fast the State Depart- 
ment can draw up a plan." The United States 
had promised TOW missiles, intelligence, 
and cooperation in getting rid of Saddam 

Hussein, Mehdi-Nejat argued. He urged 
Cave to check back with Washington again, 
since it had reneged on these commitments. 

Despite his long-standing objections, Sec- 
retary Shultz did not want to end the Iranian 
channel. Mehdi-Nejat had consulted with 
Rafsanjani, and there were some indications 
that the Iranian foreign minister was inter- 
ested in working through this conduit. Shultz 
did not want the CIA involved, so he ordered 
Cave off the detail. Dunbar planned to meet 
with Mehdi-Nejat again in Geneva on 
December 27, to again reiterate that the 
channel remained open to pass messages, 
but the days of providing arms and intelli- 
gence were over. 53 

On December 19, Odom dutifully brought 
Weinberger the intercepts related to the 
meeting and the State Department's secret 
contacts. Weinberger was livid. He immedi- 
ately sent a nasty memo to the White House: 
"I had assumed that we were finished with 

that entire Iranian episode and so testified to 
Congressional Committees during last week. 
I was astounded, therefore, to learn after my 
testimony, that the United States 'negotiat- 
ors' were still meeting with the same Irani- 
ans." Angry at Shultz for not telling him 
about the meetings, he wrote, "I would very 
much have appreciated an opportunity to 
present to the President arguments as to why 
we should not continue dealing with these 
channels in Iran." 54 

Shultz backpedaled and objected to Wein- 
berger's hostile tone. But the defense secret- 
ary had finally succeeded in killing the 
Iranian weapons-for-hostages baby. 

n popular lore, the Iranian arms deal- 
ings have been portrayed as rogue policy 
pursued by the national security staff due to 
an inattentive president. In truth, the arms- 

to-Iran initiative continued a five-year-long 
strategy, one deeply rooted in Cold War fears 
of revolutionary Iran falling under the Soviet 
sphere. While the U.S. government publicly 
tried to isolate Iran, Reagan ordered the CIA 
to surreptitiously develop contacts within the 
Iranian government in a quiet attempt to 
steer Iran back to the West. Its chief archi- 
tects—Robert McFarlane, John Poindexter, 
and William Casey— viewed providing 
weapons as just another means to find a 
pragmatic faction to work with inside the 
Iranian government. As Poindexter wrote in 
an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal at 
the height of the scandal, he firmly believed 
that cultivating such a group, over time, 
would break down the deep mutual suspi- 
cion that permeated both sides. Iran again 
might serve as a bulwark against Soviet ex- 
pansionism. In the process, it would help re- 
lease the American hostages in Lebanon and 
curb Iranian terrorism. Reagan agreed, 

scribbling on a copy for Poindexter, "Great. 

RR." 55 Instead, it degraded into a swap of 
weapons for hostages, a political scandal. 
Public officials in both Washington and Iran 
had been badly burned by the revelations. 
The real legacy of the Iranian arms affair was 
to scuttle any hope of rapprochement for the 
next two decades. 


A Ring on the American Finger 

t was the nadir of the nadir," commen- 
ted Richard Armitage about Christmas 1986. 
The Iran-Contra revelations threatened to 
unravel the Reagan presidency. 

The other shoe had dropped on the Irani- 
an arms dealings. Beginning with the very 
first shipment of TOW missiles, both the Is- 
raelis and Americans had overcharged the 
Iranians. A bill charged to Iran called for 
$10,000 per missile, when the actual cost to 
the Defense Department was closer to 
$3,500. This quickly accumulated into mil- 
lions of dollars of surplus of nonappropri- 
ated funds, Iranian money. Rather than turn 
it over to the U.S. Treasury, Oliver North 
funneled it with General Secord into buying 

arms to support the U.S.-backed rebels in 
Nicaragua, a scheme he later termed, "a neat 
idea." This treaded on illegality, and Con- 
gress was revving up for hearings that 
spring, dragging senior officials, including 
John Poindexter and Oliver North, before 
the cameras in hearings that promised to be 
as electrifying as the Watergate hearings a 
decade earlier. 

A presidential commission looking into the 
matter, headed by Republican stalwart 
former Tennessee senator John Tower, 
mildly criticized Reagan for his detached 
leadership style and for allowing the Nation- 
al Security Council to conduct operations 
and not just coordinate policy. The Tower re- 
port concluded that the president had traded 
arms for hostages. Reagan, like Claude Rains 
in Casablanca, professed "shock" to the af- 
fair even though he had been instrumental in 
the policy from the outset. 

The strain of the scandal caused backbit- 
ing and open hostility within the administra- 
tion. Secretary George Shultz took the rare 
action of going on television and publicly cri- 
ticizing the president for trading arms to the 
ayatollah. This angered the First Lady, 
Nancy Reagan. She confided to the affable 
Saudi ambassador, Prince Bandar, that 
Shultz should go for being "disloyal to the 

president." 1 Reagan refused to take his wife's 
advice and fire his secretary of state, al- 
though the two continued to verbally spar 
during following meetings in the White 
House Situation Room over the wisdom of 
the entire enterprise. Reagan, despite the 
growing scandal, continued to believe it had 
been a worthwhile endeavor. 2 

The scandal caused a major housecleaning 
in the White House. Poindexter resigned and 
Frank Carlucci came in as the new national 
security adviser, with Weinberger's former 
military aide, Colin Powell, going over to the 

White House as his deputy. Robert Oakley 
joined them, reluctantly accepting the 
Middle East portfolio. Over at the CIA, Willi- 
am Casey suffered a massive stroke in 
December and remained in his hospital 
deathbed, and after a failed effort to confirm 
Robert Gates as his replacement, FBI direct- 
or William Webster accepted the assignment 
heading the spy agency. 

News of Washington's secret dealings with 
Iran caused a crisis of confidence in the 
Middle East. "While we were sending high- 
level intelligence briefers to see the king of 
Saudi Arabia and the emir of Kuwait to warn 
them about the dangers they faced should 
Iran defeat Iraq, it turns out we were sending 
weapons to Iran. You can imagine the reac- 
tion," said Peter Burleigh, who headed the 
Office of Northern Gulf Affairs at the State 
Department. "They had not expected us to do 

that!" 3 

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation 
held its annual meeting in Kuwait in January 
1987. Amid the noise of the artillery rounds 
of the Iran-Iraq War, members debated the 
real policy of the United States in the region 
and American treachery. While Washington 
had publicly pressured countries not to sell 
Tehran weapons, it had secretly engaged in 
precisely that. Saudi officials who'd suspec- 
ted the U.S. arms transfers had repeatedly 
been reassured that no such secret actions 
were under way. News of this duplicitous 
policy shook the confidence of moderate 
Arabs in the good faith of the U.S. govern- 
ment and called into question American reli- 
ability against Iran. Few believed the Reagan 
administration's excuse that it was a rogue 

operation from the White House basement. 4 

"America is a vastly successful conspirat- 
orial power," remarked veteran Middle East 
diplomat Richard Murphy about the Arab 
view of the United States. "The Gulf states 

are pretty damn cynical, very much wedded 
to the idea that nations have interests and 
not affections, and if we saw it in our interest 
to play with Iran, we'll play with Iran. But it 

made them nervous." 5 

.Leaders in the area were suspicious of 
us because of Iran-Contra," remarked 
Sandra Charles, who headed Middle East 
policy in the Pentagon under Armitage. 
When intelligence reports showed that Iran 
was positioning Hawk antiaircraft mis- 
siles—the same type sold by North and com- 
pany to Iran— on the disputed island of Abu 
Musa, the defense minister of the United 
Arab Emirates responded to Charles during 
one meeting, "Great to know the missiles 
that you provided them are now a threat to 
your own forces. A fine mess you got 

yourselves into."- 

Carlucci and Powell revamped Operation 
Staunch. President Reagan formally desig- 
nated Secretary of State Shultz as the lead for 
coordinating a new interagency effort to halt 
weapons flowing to Iran. He assigned the 
task to the undersecretary for security assist- 
ance, former congressman from Illinois Ed- 
ward Derwinski, who formed an Operation 
Staunch committee composed of represent- 
atives from across the government, including 
the intelligence agencies. It met every two 
weeks in the Old Executive Office Building, 
where it went over the latest open and sens- 
itive intelligence reports about weapons 
destined for Iran and developed a 
coordinated government-wide response to 
cancel any sales. The new Operation Staunch 
immediately had success, especially in 
Europe. Munitions sales by Western Europe 
to Iran dropped dramatically, from $1 billion 
in 1986 to less than $200 million in the first 
half of 1987, and only four NATO nations 

sold arms to Iran, a drop from twenty-three 
the year before. At the end of that year, the 
United Kingdom ordered Iran to close its 
weapons procurement office in London 
through which Tehran purchased an estim- 
ated 70 percent of its weapons. 2 

While the State Department pursued 
Operation Staunch, the Pentagon fell back 
on the ongoing military-to-military contacts 
to mitigate the political damage. "The 
military-to-military ties through CENTCOM 
were a source of comfort to them and 
showed constancy in the relationship," re- 
marked Richard Murphy. In one instance, 
while Richard Armitage was being flailed by 
Jordan's King Hussein over the 

inconsistencies in American policy toward 
Iran, CENTCOM and Jordanian officers were 
in the next room planning an exercise as 

though nothing had happened."- The 
CENTCOM commander noted this too, after 
a swing through the region. "For the short 
run, our military cooperation has survived 
the shock intact and is in a position to 
provide some cushioning for other elements 
of our relationships in the region," General 

George Crist wrote to Weinberger. 2 

While scandal consumed the politicians in 
Washington, the tanker war escalated dra- 
matically. Iraqi aircraft struck sixty-five 
ships flying flags from various nations trans- 
iting to Iranian ports. Saudi Arabia allowed 
Iraqi Mirages to refuel at their air bases, per- 
mitting them to extend their range to the 
Strait of Hormuz. The Iraqis added long- 
range bombers newly purchased from Mo- 
scow. These lumbering four-engine planes, 
called Badgers, carried a powerful 

punch— Chinese-made cruise missiles pack- 
ing a warhead with three times the explosive 

power of an Exocet. 12 

The Gulf Arabs increased their assistance 
to Iraq. Saudi Arabia paid to improve Iraqi 
oil pipelines running through Turkey. 
Kuwait and Saudi Arabia provided Iraq with 
as much as $1 billion in assistance each 
month, and Kuwait's contribution alone 

amounted to some $13 billion by 1987.— 
Kuwait opened the door for military aid 
flowing to Iraq. In one week alone, in 
December 1986, an unprecedented seven 
Soviet arms carriers arrived in Kuwait and 
delivered more than three battalions of T-72 

tanks, plus advanced MiG-29 aircraft.— 

After seven years of war and revolution, 
Iran's conventional military capabilities to 
respond had greatly diminished. A combina- 
tion of spare-parts shortages and combat 
losses had reduced its air force, according to 

DIA estimates, to no more than a few dozen 
operational aircraft, and most of these were 
committed to the Iraqi front. Following the 
downing of their F-4 by the Saudis, the Irani- 
ans used Italian-made helicopters outfitted 
with small missiles to attack shipping and 
shifted operations to the central-southern 
Gulf, where they operated from the island of 
Abu Musa and the Sirri oil platform. They hit 
eighteen ships in 1986 before the lack of 

spare parts halted flight operations. 13 

The burden of waging Iran's campaign fell 
to the vestiges of the shah's once impressive 
navy. After the revolution, clerics assumed 
senior positions to monitor the loyalty of the 
service, leading to an exodus of officers to 
the National Iranian Tanker Company or in- 
to exile. With the outbreak of war with Iraq, 
the government tried to retain the officers 
needed to operate aircraft and ships, often 
successfully appealing to their nationalist 
sentiments. Others remained driven less by 

the tug of country than by family or the need 
for a paycheck. Among these were 
professional, American-trained officers who 
rose in rank and took the helm of a depleted 
navy in its first major war against Saddam 

By 1986, the Islamic Republic of Iran's 
navy comprised fifteen thousand men and 
eighteen warships. But spare-parts shortages 
and losses reduced the combatant ships by 
half, and at any one time, only one or two 
ships of the Iranian fleet were at sea. Iran 
had only one functioning Harpoon antiship 
missile, placed on the missile boat Joshan, 
and for years tracking this single missile be- 
came a minor fixation at the Office of Naval 

Intelligence. 14 The bulk of the Iranian opera- 
tions fell to the four small British-built frig- 
ates, each armed with small "Sea Killer" anti- 
ship missiles and a 4.5-inch rapid-fire gun. 

The Iranian leadership held the regular 
navy in some disdain; it suspected the officer 

corps of harboring sympathies for their old 
friends in the U.S. Navy and rightly ques- 
tioned their overall loyalty to the Islamic Re- 
public. The navy had produced few martyrs, 
and the Revolutionary Guard believed the 
force lacked the proper dedication and ag- 
gressiveness. In July 1985, Revolutionary 
Guardsmen manning small powerboats ex- 
ecuted their first naval operation, seizing the 
Kuwaiti freighter al-Muharraq. With no oth- 
er resources to expand their naval opera- 
tions, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard 
Corps Navy, as their naval arm was labeled, 
grew quickly, and by early 1987 it became the 
primary means of attacking shipping. 

While the Iranian navy comprised a 
professional, Western-trained force, the Re- 
volutionary Guard consisted of amateur of- 
ficers who made up for their lack of training 
with enthusiasm. The guard's rank and file 
was a blend of dedicated revolutionaries and 
impressed conscripts. One Revolutionary 

Guard sailor happened to be a deserter from 
the army who went to Bushehr to visit a 
friend serving in the navy. The Revolutionary 
Guards scooped him off the street, and 
twenty-four hours later he found himself 
manning a machine gun on a small boat in 
the middle of the Persian Gulf. 

The backbone of this fleet was an impro- 
vised fleet of several hundred small boats, a 
mix of Boston Whaler-type boats and fast 
speedboats. If one could picture a swarm of 
bass-fishing boats armed with rocket launch- 
ers and machine guns attacking a tanker the 
length of three football fields, this gives an 
idea of what this new menace in the Gulf re- 
sembled. This mosquito fleet lacked the fire- 
power to sink an oil tanker, but it could in- 
flict serious damage and kill crewmen. 

In 1984, over American objections, the 
Swedish government allowed nearly forty 
Boghammers, labeled as "cabin cruisers," to 
be sold to Iran. The Revolutionary Guard 

impressed every boat. 15 Forty-one feet long 
and powered by twin Volvo engines, they 
could reach speeds of forty-five knots. 
Armed with 107-mm rockets, RPG-7S, and 
12.7-mm machine guns, they became the 
backbone of the guard naval flotilla. 

The Revolutionary Guard's navy used 
simple procedures to attack ships. Operating 
in groups of three to five boats, they ap- 
proached close to their intended victim, then 
sprinted ahead of the tanker and simply 
waited for the ship to go by and raked its 
bridge and superstructure with automatic 
weapons and rocket-propelled grenades. 
Later, they developed more sophisticated 
tactics. They would approach a ship at high 
speed from opposite directions, spraying the 
ship with gunfire in repeated, coordinated 
passing attacks. Their first attack occurred in 
April 1987, with forty-two other vessels 
meeting a similar fate that year.— On 
September 16, 1987, a significant event 

occurred that was a precursor to changing 
Iranian tactics. For the first time in Gulf war 
history, a speedboat was used to attack a 
Kuwaiti tanker, the al-Funtas, in an unpre- 
cedented night attack. This took away the 
safe haven of night transit. 

The guard operated from the same bases 
as the Iranian navy, particularly Bandar Ab- 
bas and Bushehr. However, the Revolution- 
ary Guard maintained a parallel, but inde- 
pendent, command. Both the regular navy 
and the Revolutionary Guard were (and still 
are) divided into four district commands. 
Each had the same designation, so the ist 
Naval District in Bandar Abbas or the 2nd in 
Bushehr was the same headquarters name 
for the navy and the Revolutionary Guard. 
But other than the title, the two commands 
operated independently. In 1987, the Irani- 
ans attempted to form a joint headquarters 
to coordinate Revolutionary Guard and regu- 
lar naval operations, but this effort failed 

when the Revolutionary Guard refused to co- 
operate and subjugate their operations under 
a single command. 

The relationship between the Revolution- 
ary Guard and the Iranian navy was poor. 
Privately, many professional Iranian naval 
officers held the Revolutionary Guard in con- 
tempt, viewing them as arrogant and undis- 
ciplined. The Revolutionary Guard saw the 
navy as too conservative and still harboring 
sympathies for its former ally, the U.S. Navy. 
The two factions exchanged gunfire on sever- 
al occasions, including one incident between 
an Iranian navy helicopter and a Revolution- 
ary Guard small boat near one of the oil plat- 
forms. But the Revolutionary Guard rapidly 
became the more powerful. In one case, the 
guard forced the commander of the Iranian 
navy to resign when he opposed their seizure 
of a Kuwaiti freighter. 

At times, neither force showed great dis- 
cipline. Individual commanders disregarded 

orders from their respective district 
headquarters. In July 1987, Hashemi Raf- 
sanjani assured Japan's foreign minister that 
Iran would not attack Japanese shipping in 
the Gulf. But independent-minded Revolu- 
tionary Guard officers subsequently attacked 

two Japanese tankers. 12 The captain of the 
navy frigate Sabalan, Lieutenant Command- 
er Abdollah Manavi, who later rose to vice 
admiral and head of naval operations, 
earned the reputation of being a rogue com- 
mander. A zealot, on numerous occasions he 
ignored orders from 1st Naval District in 
Bandar Abbas not to fire on specific mer- 
chant ships. Manavi acknowledged receipt of 
the order and then opened fire on the hap- 
less tanker. He deliberately aimed at the 
bridge and living quarters to kill as many of 
the crew as possible. For this, Captain 
Manavi earned the apt nickname "Captain 

In order to find the tankers to attack, Iran 
relied on a few American-made P-3 surveil- 
lance planes and Iranian C-130S— several 
outfitted with signals intelligence collection 
equipment provided by the CIA before the 
fall of the shah. This equipment proved use- 
ful in monitoring ship radio communica- 
tions, ascertaining port destinations, and re- 
laying information down to the naval 

The key link in the Iranian monitoring 
scheme was the Iranian-held islands and oil 
platforms in the Persian Gulf, which sat 
astride the tanker routes. Under the com- 
mand of the regular Iranian navy, these loc- 
ales served as both command and control 
sites and as forward operating bases. They 
became staging bases, initially for heli- 
copters and later for Revolutionary Guard 
small boats. They provided an important 
communications link between the land- 
based headquarters and naval forces 

operating in the Gulf some one hundred to 
two hundred miles away. With the exception 
of Farsi Island, which reported back to 2nd 
Naval District in Bushehr, all of the plat- 
forms and island bases reported back to the 
larger 1st Naval District command in Bandar 

In February 1986, the 1st Naval District 
headquarters published a detailed operations 
order for tracking and monitoring prospect- 
ive targets, including U.S. Navy warships. 
The command divided the southern Gulf and 
the Strait of Hormuz into eastern and west- 
ern zones and formed subordinate headquar- 
ters on Larak, Abu Musa, and Sirik Post (just 
outside the Gulf at the entrance to the Strait 
of Hormuz). These subordinates reported 
directly back to Bandar Abbas over a com- 
mon radio network to notify the Iranian 
command of any "suspicious" vessels. Addi- 
tionally, the navy stationed four men on each 
platform. Operating undercover as 

employees of the National Iranian Oil Com- 
pany, it was their mission to monitor all 
ships passing their respective platforms and 
to relay this information back to Bandar Ab- 
bas. If the district commander determined 
one should be attacked, the order would be 
relayed to any one of the platforms or islands 
along the ship's projected path, and naval 
vessels or Revolutionary Guard small boats 
would sally forth. More than one-third of all 
Iranian attacks on shipping occurred within 
fifty nautical miles of the three key platforms 
of Sirri, Rostam, and Sassan. 12 

While the Iranian navy ran the operations 
on the platforms, the Revolutionary Guard 
small boats required them for staging bases 
as they could not operate for any length of 
time out in the open water. On any given 
day, Revolutionary Guard small boats 
clustered around each platform, using the 
navy's radios to relay messages back to the 
Revolutionary Guard headquarters. 

The guard and the regular navy escalated 
their strikes on Saudi and Kuwaiti vessels, 
attacking forty-one tankers, most of them in 
the central Gulf and off the coast of the Un- 
ited Arab Emirates (UAE), including one 
tanker waiting to take on crude in Dubai it- 
self.— Beginning in September 1986, they 
shifted their fury to the vulnerable Kuwait. 
Of Iran's next thirty-one attacks, twenty- 
eight were directed at Kuwaiti tankers.— 
Lloyd's of London increased the insurance 
premium fivefold for ships bound to 

Kuwait.— Tankers tried to make the run to 
Kuwait at night, hoping to avoid the Iranian 

navy. 23 Iran ratcheted up the pressure by 
sending in saboteurs, who blew up two of 
Kuwait's main crude oil manifolds. 

Kuwait was not a particularly sympathetic 
victim. An accident of geography placed its 
tiny population atop one of the world's 
largest oil reserves. The country owed its 

entire existence to Great Britain. The once 
great colonial power had carved out the pro- 
tectorate, and after independence in 1961 
sent seven thousand soldiers and marines to 
prevent Iraq, which claimed with some basis 
that Kuwait historically was part of it, from 
gobbling up the new nation. Kuwait impor- 
ted tens of thousands of better-educated 
Palestinians to run its bureaucracy and de- 
velop its oil industry, but refused to enfran- 
chise their Arab brothers and held them in 
fearful contempt. 

During the Cold War, Kuwait tried to play 
the United States and the Soviet Union off 
each other for its own advantage. It was the 
only Gulf state to maintain full diplomatic 
relations with the Soviets, a constant thorn 

in the side of U.S. -Kuwaiti relations. 24 Des- 
pite Kuwait's diplomatic balancing acts, it re- 
mained a defenseless state surrounded by 
wolves. The constant artillery fire rattling the 
windows of Kuwait City served as a reminder 

to the ruling al-Sabah family of their vulner- 
ability. Kuwait feared the Iranians, but threw 
its support behind the duplicitous Saddam 
Hussein, who coveted Kuwait and refused to 
resolve their long-standing border dispute. 
While Kuwait kept the United States at arm's 
length so as not to anger its Persian neigh- 
bor, in the end it looked to the United States 
for its survival. 

"The Kuwaitis pretend neutrality, but 
when they put their money down, they put it 
on the West," observed the State Depart- 
ment's political adviser to CENTCOM and 
later ambassador to Kuwait, Nathaniel How- 
ell. 25 

The Kuwaiti oil minister Sheik Ali Khalifa 
grew increasingly concerned by Iranian at- 
tacks on his tankers. With a mustache and 
soft features, Ali Khalifa looked more like an 
international businessman than an Arab Be- 
douin. Within the ruling family, he was seen 
as smart, with a good business sense, which 

is why the ruling emir, Sheik Jabir al-Sabah, 
appointed him to run Kuwait's most import- 
ant commercial venture. At twenty-nine, he 
took over running the Kuwait Oil Company, 
helping transform it into a global concern, 
including installing four thousand gas sta- 

tions in Europe.— 

In the summer of 1986, Ali Khalifa and the 
other senior members of the al-Sabah family 
discussed how to respond to Iran's attacks. 
Unlike Tehran's terrorist attacks, these went 
to the heart of Kuwait's economy. They 
briefly considered using Kuwait's small navy 
to protect their ships, but defense minister 
Sheik Salem al-Sabah countered that Iran 
would simply attack their patrol boats and 
thus draw them into the Iran-Iraq War. Ali 
Khalifa agreed. Only the protection offered 
by a superpower would deter Iran, he felt. 22 

The real question that weighed on the 
minds of Kuwaiti leaders was whether they 
could trust the United States. If the tanker 

war grew worse, would Washington cut and 
run as it had in Beirut two years earlier, leav- 
ing tiny Kuwait to deal with Iran's wrath? Ali 
Khalifa decided to test the American waters. 

On December 10, the American embassy 
in Kuwait City received an unusual inquiry 
from the Kuwait Oil Company asking about 
the requirements for registering ships in the 

United States.— Edward Gnehm at State, 
later ambassador to the country, was asked 
whether any reflagged tankers would then 

receive "U.S. Navy protection." 22 The same 
day, the manager of fleet development for 
the Kuwait Oil Tanker Company, Tim 
Stafford, telexed the U.S. Coast Guard re- 
questing guidance on the possible reflagging 
of four of Kuwait's liquid petroleum gas car- 
riers, currently registered in France, under 
the American flag. 

The coast guard responded to Tim Stafford 
with a mind-numbing list of regulations, 
from the number of fire extinguishers 

needed on board to pollution control re- 
quirements. Any tanker the Kuwait Oil 
Tanker Company wanted to register under 
the U.S. flag must: l) have a U.S. citizen as 
the ship's master; 2) have at least 75 percent 
of the crew be American citizens; 3) be 
owned by a U.S. company or a corporation 
where the majority of the board members 
were American citizens; and 4) be liable for 
use by the U.S. military during a war. 32 

But Sheik Ali Khalifa had hedged his 
policy and quietly approached Washington's 
adversary. He met with the Soviet ambassad- 
or about registering some ships under the 
hammer and sickle. Moscow responded im- 
mediately and favorably with no concerns 
about fire extinguishers or corporations. The 
next day, Khalifa telephoned the American 
ambassador, Anthony Quainton, to brief him 
on a Soviet offer to transport all of Kuwait's 
oil using either Soviet tankers or Kuwaiti 
ships under the Soviet flag. "Would the 

United States be willing to match the Soviet 
commitment by reflagging some or all of 
Kuwait's tankers?" he politely asked. "It 
smacked a little bit of blackmail," recalled 
the national security adviser, Frank 

Carlucci. 31 

Sheik Ali Khalifa's call set in motion yet 
one more debate within an administration 
still struggling with its Middle East foreign 
policy in the wake of Iran-Contra. While the 
basic tenets of containing Soviet and Iranian 
expansion were never questioned, there were 
divisions about whether this unexpected 
Kuwaiti overture helped these goals. In a 
private memo for senior officials, Shultz 
summed up his views: "It is not the role of 
the United States to take the lead in protect- 
ing neutral shipping in the Gulf." 32 Overall, 
the State Department remained hesitant 
about rushing in and accepting the Kuwaiti 
request. It appeared to be little more than a 
blatant attempt to pressure the United States 

into saving Kuwait's economy with very little 

in return. 33 

Once again, Weinberger clashed with 
Shultz. The United States had a request for 
assistance in an area vital to American secur- 
ity, Weinberger argued, and this presented a 
grand opportunity to develop the closer mil- 
itary ties needed for U.S. security— what the 
New Splendor effort envisioned. Inaction 
risked undermining the U.S. position in the 
Persian Gulf and would open the Persian 

Gulf door to the Soviets. 34 As to the legalities 
of reflagging, the secretary of defense asser- 
ted that whether the ships were under U.S. 
registry or not was immaterial. If we decided 
to safeguard Kuwaiti ships, he asserted, we 
could do it because it was in our interests 
and served to ensure our principle of free- 
dom of the seas. "There wasn't the slightest 
question about propriety of the request and 
the purpose of our helping them," Weinber- 
ger said of his position. "It was in 

international waters, we and everyone 

needed the oil, so why not do it?" 35 

Although Weinberger later said the Iran- 
Contra debacle had not influenced his de- 
cision, Richard Armitage and Robert Oakley 
on the NSC staff both viewed the Kuwaiti re- 
quest through the lens of the scandal. "This 
presented a golden opportunity to assist the 
moderate Arabs and restore U.S. reliability 
after Iran-Contra, having devastated them by 

lying," said Armitage. 3 ^ Oakley agreed, 
adding that the U.S. policy was in tatters and 
the fear of an Iranian victory was serious. 32 
Sheik Ali Khalifa's request offered Washing- 
ton the opportunity to clearly demonstrate 
American support for our allies in the Gulf 
and to show which side we were on regarding 

Iran. 38 

Winter soon gave way to spring with 

still no firm American commitment to 

Finally a frustrated Kuwait dropped a 
bombshell. Sheik Abdul Fattah al-Bader of 
the Kuwait Oil Tanker Company announced 
to startled American diplomats that Kuwait 
and the Soviet Union had reached an agree- 
ment to reflag five tankers, to be manned en- 
tirely by Soviet crews and escorted by three 
Soviet warships between Khor Fakkan, UAE, 

and Kuwait. 33 The Kuwaiti government still 
wanted to proceed with registering six ships 
with the Americans, but the Soviets had been 
much more responsive. The entire process 
would take just one week, as opposed to 
twenty weeks with the U.S. Coast Guard. 

This news created consternation on the 
third floor of the Pentagon. Sandy Charles, 
director for Middle Eastern affairs, drafted a 
memo for Weinberger for his weekly 

breakfast meeting the next morning with 

Carlucci and Shultz. 42 She recommended 
that the United States offer to protect all el- 
even of the tankers in question— including 
the five offered to Moscow— regardless of 
coast guard paperwork or even if they flew 

the Stars and Stripes. 41 

The next morning, Weinberger broke the 
logjam. The United States risked an expan- 
ded Soviet military presence in the Gulf if it 
failed to act. We cannot sit by and allow the 
Iranians to intimidate Kuwait, he said. While 
Carlucci concurred, Shultz remained uncon- 
vinced. After an hour of debating, Weinber- 
ger called the president directly. Reagan 
agreed to protect all eleven Kuwaiti 

tankers. 42 

Weinberger immediately sent a letter to 
the Kuwaiti defense minister, Sheik Salem 

The President believes continued at- 
tacks on non-belligerent shipping, 
coupled with the Iranian Silkworm 
threat, pose a serious threat to our mu- 
tual security interests. The President has 
asked me to convey to you his readiness 
to provide protection for these eleven 
tankers, currently under Kuwaiti re- 
gistry. We would be prepared to provide 
this protection to Kuwait's vessels 
whether or not Kuwait sought to register 

them under the U.S. flag. 43 

The U.S. government immediately pressed 
Kuwait to renege on its deal with the Soviets. 
But now Sheik Salem and the Kuwaitis had 
the upper hand. After berating the Americ- 
ans for their foot-dragging and their overly 
complicated bureaucracy, Salem added that 
he resented their request for the Kuwaitis to 

alter their policy decisions. After all, he said, 
"Kuwait is a sovereign country." 

As far as reneging on their deal with the 
Soviets, he said, "Where there is a will, there 
is a way." But Sheik Salem then cautioned, 
"In England, once a man had proposed to a 
woman, he could not back out, and this was 
the situation between Kuwait and Moscow." 

The American deputy consul, James 
Hooper, deftly countered, "It was not official 
until the man put a ring on the woman's fin- 
ger. Had Kuwait put a ring on the Russian 

finger?" 44 

"Let us say that our hand is reaching to- 
ward their hand," Sheik Salem slyly replied, 
"but the ring has not yet been placed on the 
Russian finger." 

On March 9, Ali Khalifa telephoned Crist 
in Tampa after a meeting with Crown Prince 
Saad. The Kuwaiti government had agreed 
not to take the Russian bride. It accepted the 

U.S. offer to protect all eleven Kuwaiti 
tankers. Kuwait had slipped the ring onto the 
American finger. 45 

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Willi- 
am Crowe arrived in Bahrain for scheduled 
meetings with the emir and the commander 
of Middle East Force, Rear Admiral Harold 
Bernsen, prior to going to Kuwait to consum- 
mate the agreement. After landing, Crowe 
learned that Khalifa had not been entirely 
honest. Kuwait still intended to charter three 
Soviet tankers to carry some of its crude oil. 

The revelation blindsided Crowe. ^ 

"Should we just rescind the offer and let 
Kuwait fend for itself against Iran? Let 
Kuwait make the best deal it can with the 
Soviets?" Crowe asked Bernsen. The chair- 
man generally supported the reflagging idea, 
but privately shared many of Shultz's con- 
cerns. He was also not an admirer of 
Kuwait's aloof stance toward the United 
States and had little sympathy for its 

straddling the fence between the 

"I think it's too late, sir," said Bernsen. 
"Backtracking now would seriously under- 
mine American credibility with the other 

GCC countries." 42 When an angry Crowe fi- 
nally calmed down, he agreed with Bernsen. 
There was little the United States could do 
except move forward and try to mitigate the 
Soviet's newfound prominence in the Persian 

Gulf. 42 

Kuwait had deftly manipulated both su- 
perpowers into providing protection against 
Iran. Kuwait had agreed to put the ring on 
the American finger, while leaving the door 
open for its Russian mistress. 

ith the political decision made, 
CENTCOM ramped up its plans to protect 
the eleven Kuwaiti tankers. Around six p.m. 

on Friday, March 6, Crist called his opera- 
tions officer, Air Force Major General 
Samuel Swart, to get the "board of directors 
together," as the commander called his key 

staff officers. 49 At their meeting two hours 
later, Crist informed them of the proposed 
reflagging operation, which had been given 
the randomly selected name "Private 
Jewels." Washington's guidance to Crist had 
been to "minimize the risk to American lives" 
but still be prepared to launch retaliatory 
strikes on Iran within ninety-six hours. 

Several shortfalls plagued CENTCOM for 
the upcoming convoy operation. Not only did 
it have no off-the-shelf plan, but Crist had no 
senior navy subordinate command to run 
what would certainly be a naval mission. 50 
Lieutenant General Robert Kingston tried 
and failed to get the navy to stand up a Fifth 
Fleet for CENTCOM, and now Crist's sea ser- 
vice component consisted of a frocked rear 
admiral in Hawaii who handled budgets and 

paperwork. The heavy lifting of the operation 
fell to the small Persian Gulf flotilla, Middle 
East Force. Established in 1949, it consisted 
of a flagship and a few destroyers based out 

of Bahrain in an old British naval facility. 51 
The navy never intended this to be anything 
more than a small show-the-flag naval force. 
In the event of a Middle East conflict, the 
four-star commander in Hawaii's Pacific 
Fleet would roll in and take over. The estab- 
lishment of a joint military command legally 
responsible for the Middle East had not 
changed the U.S. Navy's scheme. CENTCOM 
could fight the land battle in Iran, but the 
Pacific Fleet would control the warships, per- 
haps in support of CENTCOM, but ulti- 
mately unilaterally and irrespective of the 
wishes of the commander in Tampa. 

The commander of Middle East Force was 
not the type of admiral the institution would 
have chosen for such an important opera- 
tion. Rear Admiral Harold Bernsen had 

graduated from Dartmouth, not the Naval 
Academy; an aviator but no "Top Gun" fight- 
er jock, he had flown decidedly unglamorous 
airborne warning surveillance prop planes. 
Still, Bernsen knew the Persian Gulf. He had 
commanded the Middle East flagship, USS 
La Salle, at the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq 
War, and had recently served as Crist's seni- 
or planning officer at CENTCOM, where he'd 
earned Crist's respect. What Bernsen lacked 
in naval career gravitas, he made up for with 
political acumen. With a calm, measured 
persona that appealed to Gulf leaders, 
Bernsen understood the Arabs as few other 
military officers did. He was a smart and un- 
orthodox thinker in the most conservative of 
the services. A skilled envoy, he forged a 
strong bond with the emirs and kings of the 
Gulf. This was a mission that would be polit- 
ical as much as military. While he never en- 
joyed the confidence of the navy hierarchy, 
especially the chief of naval operations, 

Admiral Carlisle Trost, Bernsen proved to be 
a perfect choice. Bernsen's operations of- 
ficer, Captain David Grieve, arrived in 
Tampa to assist CENTCOM's planning. 
Working late into the night over the next few 
days, they hashed out a concept for the up- 
coming escort operation. 

On March 13, General Crist briefed the 
chiefs in the Tank on their plan. Crist envi- 
sioned an expansion of the basic regime 
already under way since the boarding of the 
President Taylor. One or two U.S. warships 
would accompany the tankers along a six- 
hundred-mile route running from Khor 
Fakkan just outside the Gulf to Kuwait Har- 
bor. CENTCOM requested two additional 
ships (bringing the Middle East Force total 
to eight) to protect the tankers and maintain 
communications links with air force AWACS 
in Saudi Arabia and the carrier well out in 
the Gulf of Oman. 52 

On Sunday, March 22, Bernsen's staff met 
for the first time with Kuwaiti oil officials 
and embassy representatives to talk about 
the escort plan. Bernsen did not have the 
ships to run a continual shuttle, but two or 
three ships could be gathered together at 
either end and then escorted the entire six- 
hundred-mile route. This slowed oil 
deliveries, al-Bader said, but he had little 
choice but to agree to the American plan. 
They quickly agreed on several southern Gulf 
routes for the convoys that avoided the Irani- 
an exclusion zone, and Kuwait agreed to al- 
low an American naval officer to be stationed 
in the Kuwait Oil Tanker Company 
headquarters to serve as a liaison officer. 
Armed with a satellite telephone, he would 
coordinate the tankers' schedules with 
Middle East Force. Additionally, al-Bader 
agreed to allow an officer to be stationed on 
board each tanker during the convoy. Kuwait 
agreed to purchase short-range walkie- 

talkies for these officers to communicate 
with the escorting warships. Their job would 
be to advise the tanker captains on military 
matters and to serve as coordinators 
between the civilian masters and the convoy 

Tehran greeted news of the Kuwaiti escort 
arrangement with characteristic vitriol. Pres- 
ident Khamenei said Kuwait's request for 
U.S. protection "dishonored the region" and 
warned that Kuwait City and its oil facilities 
lay within range of Iranian forces. "Iran has 
not yet used its capabilities to bring pressure 
on Kuwait," said the Iranian president and 
future supreme leader on April 2r/. 5& 

In addition to its diminutive navy, Iran 
had other military options. In August 1986, 
an Iranian naval officer, Commodore Kan- 
oush Hakimi, traveled to China to negotiate 
a secret deal to purchase the powerful 
Chinese-built Silkworm antiship cruise mis- 
siles. While guided by a relatively 

unsophisticated radar, these potato-shaped 
missiles packed a thousand-pound warhead 
capable of seriously damaging any super- 
tanker or sinking any American warship. The 
Chinese agreed to sell twelve launchers and 
as many as one hundred missiles, and soon 
more Iranians arrived for training on the 
new weapon. 54 

American intelligence learned immedi- 
ately of the sale. Hakimi happened to be on 
the CIA's payroll. Additionally, the British 
spy service, MI6, may have had an agent 
working the case. An Iranian arms merchant, 
Jamshid Hashemi, claimed to have negoti- 
ated the $452 million deal during ten chaotic 
rounds of haggling in China in 1985-1986. 
During that period, he worked for British in- 
telligence, meeting with his Persian-speaking 
handler, "Michael," once a week in Lon- 
don. 55 The British government passed his in- 
formation along to the CIA. 

In a Pentagon meeting, Weinberger con- 
fronted his Chinese counterpart, who simply 
denied sending the missiles to Iran. "We've 
got satellites photographing the first ship- 
ment leaving China and off-loading at 
Bandar Abbas," replied the incredulous de- 
fense secretary. 5 ^ 

By January 1987, Iran had one Silkworm 
battery active and had announced the fact by 
sending a missile in the direction of Kuwait 
Harbor just before the meeting of the Organ- 
ization of Islamic Cooperation. Iran began 
construction of a series of ten concrete Silk- 
worm missile launchers ringing the Strait of 
Hormuz. The CIA and CENTCOM viewed 
this as a major new threat to Gulf shipping 
and to U.S. warships. Iran now had the 
means to seriously impede oil exports, as one 
Silkworm— with a range of fifty nautical 
miles— could turn a four-hundred-thousand- 
ton supertanker into so much scrap metal. 
Iran now had the means to control the Strait 

of Hormuz and to attack any ship entering or 

leaving. 52 

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs made ob- 
taining one of the missiles for dissection a 
top priority for the Defense Intelligence 
Agency, which it succeeded in doing in the 
spring of 1987 with the aid of another intelli- 
gence service. 

Regardless of Khamenei's bluster and his 
new Silkworm missiles, neither Bernsen nor 
Crist believed Iran would force a fight. "It ap- 
pears unlikely that Iran will intentionally at- 
tack a U.S. combatant or a Kuwaiti flag 
tanker under U.S. escort," Crist's lengthy op- 
erational estimate stated. The CENTCOM 
plan emphasized deterrence over fighting. 
The Iranians would not risk U.S. retaliation. 
The carrier in the Arabian Sea provided the 
necessary muscle for a credible deterrence, 
and the Iranian military knew full well the 

capabilities of the U.S. military. 5 ^ The risks 
posed in the upcoming operation seemed 

minimal. However, in the month after the 
Khamenei threat the hazards of the tanker 
war suddenly became very real. Once again, 
Saddam Hussein provided a wake-up call. 


The Wake- Up Call 

At eight a.m. on May 17, 1987, the USS 

Stark steamed out of Manama, Bahrain, and 
gradually disappeared over the horizon, 
heading north out into the opaque blue of 
the Persian Gulf. Commanded by a forty- 
three-year-old Pennsylvanian with twenty 
years of commissioned service, Captain 
Glenn R. Brindel, the Stark was in a class of 
ships originally conceived as an inexpensive 
escort ship for Atlantic convoys during 
World War III. With a sleek hull and a boxy 
superstructure, she was armed with a little 
bit of everything, from antiship and surface- 
to-air missiles to a 20-mm chain gun; the 
latter, resembling a white R2-D2 from Star 
Wars, was called a close-in weapons system, 

or CIWS (pronounced "sea-whiz"), capable 
of firing three thousand rounds per minute 
and designed to shoot down incoming mis- 
siles. With a crew of 221 men, the Stark and 
her sister ships would provide the shield to 
protect Kuwait from Iran. 

The Stark's assigned station sat on the 
edge of the tanker war's killing zone. Serving 
as a radar picket for Middle East Force, the 
frigate headed for the north-central Persian 
Gulf, some fifty miles off the Iranian coast 
and a mere twenty miles outside the Iranian 
exclusion zone. The area just north of there 
had seen some 340 Iraqi air and missile at- 
tacks on Iranian shipping, sinking or dam- 
aging forty ships. 1 Recently, Iraq had begun 
striking Iran-bound ships farther south, fly- 
ing directly over the areas where American 

ships operated. 2 Three days before the Stark 
sailed, an Exocet hit a Panamanian tanker 
just sixty miles from the Stark's intended po- 
sition. That same day the American 

destroyer Coontz nearly opened fire on an 
Iraqi pilot who failed to heed warnings and 
closed to within ten miles of the warship be- 
fore abruptly turning away when he detected 
an audible buzz in his headset from the 

Coontz 's weapons control radar. 3 That even- 
ing, Middle East Force sent out an intelli- 
gence advisory to its ships stating that the 
Iraqis had conducted ship attack profiles in 
the central Gulf and that they expected this 
trend to continue for the next two weeks. 

Brindel was well aware of the Iraqi threat. 
The day after the Coontz incident, Harold 
Bernsen went pleasure sailing with the 

Stark's commander. 4 Bernsen mentioned the 
previous day's incident near where the Stark 
would be operating, and he asked Brindel to 
attend an intelligence briefing the following 
day that would go over the recent Iraqi at- 
tack profiles in the central Gulf as well as the 
rules for using force. The Iraqis flew fast and 
low along the west coast of the Gulf near 

Saudi Arabia, then quickly did the Farsi hook 
and turned east into the Gulf, at which point 
they would turn on their search radar and 
look for a target in the Iranian exclusion 

zone. 5 Frequently they fired at the first target 
they illuminated, with no attempt to visually 
identify the vessel. Bernsen instructed 
Brindel to make this information known to 
his officers so that there would be no uncer- 
tainty of the danger posed by the reckless 

Iraqi pilots.- 

This was not the first time Captain Brindel 
heard the rules of engagement for the Per- 
sian Gulf. When his ship arrived in the 
Middle East, Captain David Grieve and 
Bernsen's intelligence officer, Commander 

Robert Brown, met the ship in Djibouti. 2 
Brown emphasized that "the probability of 
deliberate attack on U.S. warships was low, 
but that indiscriminate attack in the Persian 

Gulf was a significant danger."- Grieve went 

through two formal documents governing 
the use of force and stressed that it was the 
responsibility of each captain to "take all 
possible measures and precautions to protect 

his unit." 2 The rules of engagement allowed 
any ship to engage an aircraft displaying hos- 
tile intent. This included such overt acts as 
locking on to the U.S. vessel with fire control 
radar or flying toward them in an attack pro- 
file. Iraqi aircraft were unpredictable and 
should always be regarded as potentially 

hostile.— Grieve left the Stark's officers with 
a final thought: "We do not want, nor intend 
to absorb, a first attack." 

As the Stark headed out into the danger 
zone, the atmosphere on board remained 
strangely lax. Bernsen's sagacity failed to al- 
ter Brindel's attitude, and the ship continued 
to operate as if it were cruising off the home 
port of Mayport, Florida, and not in the 
middle of a shooting war.— 

The ship's executive officer was focused on 
an upcoming administrative inspection of 
the ship's propulsion plant. Inside the heart 
of the Stark, in the close spaces of the com- 
bat information center, where the glow from 
an array of screens and combat sensors illu- 
minated the darkened confined space, none 
of the officers knew what defense state the 
ship should be in, nor did they seem to ap- 
preciate the threat posed by either Iran or 

Iraq.— Just that morning, Iraqi jets had con- 
ducted separate Exocet missile attacks on 
two large Iranian shuttle tankers, the Aqua- 
marine and Zeus. Brindel had combined two 
billets— those of the watch officer and the 
weapons control officer. This effectively 
meant that no one was manning the critical 
weapons control officer station. None of the 
weapons were manned; the .50-caliber ma- 
chine guns had no ammo loaded, and their 
crew was lying on the deck, perhaps asleep. 

The ship's defenses, designed to detect and 
defeat incoming missiles, were turned off. 

At 7:55 p.m., the American AWACS flying 
out of Saudi Arabia picked up an Iraqi 
Mirage taking off from an air base near Basra 
flying south in the classic profile to attack 
Iranian shipping. This track was downloaded 
in real time to the U.S. warships— including 
the Stark— providing a continuous update on 
the Mirage's whereabouts, which due to in- 
teroperability problems between the navy 
and air force systems showed up on the navy 
radar screens as a "friendly" symbol air- 
craft. 13 Additionally, the destroyer Coontz, 
now pier-side at Manama, updated the Iraqi 
aircraft's position every five minutes over a 
secure radio telephone transmission to all 
warships, including the Stark. u 

Captain Brindel walked into the combat 
information center fifteen minutes after the 
first sighting. The senior watch officer, Lieu- 
tenant Basil Moncrief, told his skipper about 

the Iraqi aircraft, noting that it had just gone 
"feet wet" and crossed out over the waters of 
the Persian Gulf. Brindel directed Moncrief 
to keep a close watch on the Iraqi aircraft 
and departed, apparently giving it little more 
thought as he worried about the upcoming 
engine inspection. It had become routine for 
U.S. warships north of Bahrain to go to gen- 
eral quarters as a precaution when an Iraqi 
aircraft was over the Gulf, but there was no 

thought of this on the Stark that night. 15 

Despite Brindel's instructions at the outset 
to keep a close eye on the Iraqi Mirage, none 
of the nine men in the combat center seemed 
very concerned. Even as the AWACS repor- 
ted that the Iraqi jet had made the Farsi 
hook and was now headed east on a course 
that would come within eleven miles of the 
Stark's position, one of the two fire control 
technicians who manned the radar and 
CIWS left to make an extended "head" call 
and was absent for the next twenty minutes. 

The Stark's own radar picked up the 
Mirage at seventy nautical miles and closing 
at the quick rate of six miles a minute. The 
radar operator told Moncrief that the Iraqi's 
projected path would take it to within four 
nautical miles of the Stark. Moncrief re- 
mained unconcerned, even when the ship's 
sensors detected the search radar emissions 
from the Mirage. A minute later, with the 
Iraqi aircraft now only forty-three miles 
away, one of the watch standers, Petty Of- 
ficer Bobby Duncan, asked Moncrief if they 
should broadcast the standard warning as 
prescribed in the rules of engagement. "No, 
wait," the lieutenant replied, believing the 
Iraqi either would turn away or was too far 
out to hear the U.S. voice warning. Instead, 
Moncrief had them fill out a required admin- 
istrative report on the incident. 

Back in Bahrain, an officer on the flagship 
monitoring the situation grew concerned and 

called the Stark to make sure that they were 
aware of the fast- approaching Mirage. 

"Affirmative... Evaluated Iraqi F-i.. .bearing 
269, range 27 nautical miles, over," Moncrief 
answered. The Stark's executive officer, 
Lieutenant Commander Raymond Gajan, ar- 
rived, having spent the last half hour in 
Brindel's cabin discussing the engine inspec- 
tion. Detecting no sense of urgency, he con- 
tented himself to talk about routine adminis- 
trative issues with Moncrief, paying little at- 
tention to an Iraqi jet coming in fast and low 
on their ship. At seven minutes past nine, the 
Iraqi pilot fired off his first missile, from only 

twenty-two miles away.— 

As the Iraqi missile streaked undetected to 
the Stark, Moncrief finally noticed that the 
Mirage's course would take it directly over 
his ship. He finally ordered Duncan to 
broadcast a warning to the Iraqi F-i: 
"Unknown aircraft, this is U.S. Navy warship 
on your 076 at 12 miles. Request you identify 

yourself and state your intentions, over." 
There was no response from the Iraqi pilot, 
who then launched his second missile. 

This time, the Stark detected his radar, 
which came in the form of an unmistakable, 
high-pitched tone easily heard throughout 

the combat center. 12 As Gajan looked on 
passively, an alarmed Moncrief ordered a 
second warning broadcast to the aircraft and 
sent a sailor topside to arm the chaff dis- 
pensers, which threw up a cloud of alumin- 
um strips designed to confuse incoming mis- 
siles. After some confusion about which 
radar to use, Moncrief ordered the Stark's 
own fire radar to lock on to the aircraft. He 
did so reluctantly, apparently worrying that 
this might be misinterpreted by the Iraqi air- 
craft as a hostile act. About this time a 
second missile radar was heard emanating 
from the F-i. Inexplicably, no one thought to 
activate the CIWS, the ship's best defense 

against an incoming missile, or even to 
sound general quarters. 

Two minutes after the first missile was 
fired, a lookout on the Stark spotted a bright 
flash just off the port bow, with a "little blue 
dot coming from the center of that flash." He 
yelled into his headset, "Missile inbound!" 
But it was too late. 

The first Exocet hit the port side of the 
ship. Entering through one berthing area, 
the missile traveled on into the chief petty of- 
ficers' compartment. The warhead did not 
explode, but doused the interior with burn- 
ing fuel. As many as twenty-eight men were 
instantly incinerated by the conflagration. 
Within the ship, sailors heard a muffled ex- 
plosion. Captain Brindel, who happened to 
be in the bathroom at the time, rushed up to 
the bridge. 

A tense voice came over the ship's internal 
speakers: "Missile inbound!" The metallic 
clang-clang sounding general quarters rang 

throughout the ship just as the second mis- 
sile struck, eight feet from the first; its 330- 
pound warhead exploded, blowing apart 
metal and flesh, sending shrapnel through 
bulkheads, and creating a large gaping hole 
in the side of the ship. 

The Stark immediately filled with a thick, 
acrid smoke. Those trapped within the im- 
pact area donned their emergency escape 
breathing devices— basically a hood with 
about fifteen minutes' air supply— and 
stumbled in the dark trying to get through 
jammed hatches and past dangling live elec- 
trical wires. Six men either jumped or fell 
from the gaping hole down into the waters of 
the Gulf. A quick-thinking sailor on deck 
threw two of them life preservers after hear- 
ing calls for help. Men tried in vain to reach 
sailors trapped in their bunks, screaming for 
help before being overcome by smoke and 

Admiral Bernsen was in the wardroom of 
the Middle East Force's flagship, the USS La 
Salle, hosting a farewell dinner for a depart- 
ing officer, with the guest of honor being the 
U.S. ambassador to Bahrain, Sam Zackem. 
The watch officer came down to the ward- 
room and asked Bernsen to come to the com- 
mand center. Soon other staff officers fol- 
lowed suit, leaving Ambassador Zackem 
wondering what could possibly be going on. 
About five minutes passed, and Zackem de- 
cided to go and see for himself. 

There he met a visibly shaken Bernsen. 
"Mr. Ambassador, the Stark was hit." 19 Zack- 
em was stunned. Just the day before, he re- 
called, he had watched the Stark's crew de- 
feat the La Salle's in volleyball, and Captain 
Brindel had given him a case of Coors beer. 

Bernsen immediately ordered additional 
ships to come to the Stark's assistance, and 
the La Salle made preparations to get under 
way and head north to take charge of the 

rescue effort. The crew dispatched one of 
their helicopters, named the "Desert Duck," 
carrying additional oxygen tanks, firefighting 
equipment, and a corpsman. Meanwhile, 
Ambassador Zackem phoned the crown 
prince of Bahrain and received permission to 
use that country's hospitals to treat the most 
seriously injured sailors. Bahrain emptied its 
main burn unit in anticipation of a large 
number of casualties, and two severely 
burned sailors arrived before being flown on 
with other sailors to the U.S. military's own 
burn unit at Brooke Army Medical Center in 

San Antonio, Texas. 22 

Back on the Stark the fire spread quickly. 
Within an hour, it had burned through two 
decks, consuming the combat information 
center and the galley and threatening the 
forward missile magazine. Brindel ordered it 
flooded. The heat was intense, melting pro- 
tective fire masks and even fusing two keys 
in the pocket of Lieutenant William Conklin. 

Fire parties on the forecastle, led by Lieuten- 
ants Moncrief and Conklin, directed their 
hoses on the fires coming increasingly close 
to the magazine, as the heat from the fire 
peeled the paint off the base of the missile 

Their efforts, and the arrival of a civilian 
salvage tug with additional hoses, staved off 
disaster, but the large amount of water being 
poured on the fire caused a significant list 
that now threatened to capsize the ship. 
Brindel and Gajan conferred and agreed to 
punch holes in the side of the ship to allow 

the excess water to drain out.— One more 
crisis was averted. 

The next day, a Bahraini helicopter res- 
cued four of the six men who had gone over- 
board, while a fifth and the severely burned 
body of the sixth sailor were recovered by a 
U.S. warship. The five survivors had spent a 
taxing night in the open sea dodging sharks 
and sea snakes. 

Even the Iranians tried to help. They sent 
two helicopters to assist in search and res- 
cue. Although they were professionally com- 
petent, Bernsen gave them a search area well 
away from the Stark. 

Word of the Stark disaster spread quickly 
through Washington. The National Military 
Command Center notified Armitage, who 
phoned Weinberger. "The USS Stark was hit 
by Iraqi missiles, probably an accident." The 
defense secretary relayed the message to the 
national security adviser, Frank Carlucci. 
Within an hour after the first missile hit, the 
president knew of the tragedy half a world 
away. "A beautiful day," Reagan penned in 
his diary, "until I got a call from Frank 

[Carlucci]." 23 

General Crist was in Pennsylvania to re- 
ceive an honorary doctorate from his alma 
mater, Villanova University. Crist had re- 
cently stopped smoking, and other than 
craving cigarettes, he enjoyed his visit, which 

included a speech before newly commis- 
sioned marine lieutenants from the school's 
navy ROTC program. He arrived back in 
Tampa that evening to be met on the tarmac 
by a senior officer, Brigadier General Wayne 
Schramm, along with other staff. 

"That's nice," he thought. "My staff has 
come out to welcome me back after receiving 
my honorarium." But when he got into the 
car, he learned about the Stark. It would be 
another five years before Crist tried again to 
stop smoking. 24 

After twelve hours the crew had finally ex- 
tinguished the fire. The grisly task to find 
and remove the dead began. The final toll: 
thirty-seven sailors dead. 

Crist ordered Rear Admiral Grant Sharp to 
conduct an investigation. Arriving in the 
Gulf, Sharp and his party formally began the 
investigation on May 26 aboard the La Salle, 
with the hulk of the Stark nearby and with 
the distinct smell of the fire hanging in the 

air. While crediting Captain Brindel and his 
officers and crew (including Gajan and Mon- 
crief) with heroism and skill in fighting the 

fire and saving their ship, 25 Sharp's report 
was a scathing indictment on the complete 
lack of preparedness aboard the Stark: "The 
Commanding officer failed to provide com- 
bat oriented leadership, allowing Stark's 
anti-air warfare readiness to disintegrate to 
the point that his CIC [combat information 
center] team was unable to defend the 
ship." M 

Meanwhile, another investigative team ar- 
rived in Baghdad. Headed by a navy admiral, 
it included senior intelligence expert Pat 
Lang, who ran the Iraq operations for the 
Defense Intelligence Agency. Flying into 
Baghdad, the Americans were greeted by two 
separate caravans of Iraqi officials, one from 
the intelligence service and the other from 
the foreign ministry, who ushered the deleg- 
ation off to the al-Rashid Hotel in downtown 

Baghdad. Saddam Hussein was nervous 
about America's response to the attack, wor- 
rying that the United States would turn 
against Iraq, cutting off the intelligence shar- 
ing or even pulling its support for the money 
and weapons flowing to his war machine. 
The next day, Lang and the other Americans 
met with the head of Iraqi air force intelli- 
gence, Sabur Abdul Aziz al-Douri. He had 
commanded a Republican Guard division 
and was known to Lang: "Al-Douri was one 
of these guys that light came in and none 
came out; he was a tough little bastard and 
not a guy to fool with." 

This Iraqi general explained how they di- 
vided the Iranian exclusion zone into hunt- 
ing boxes. Their pilots would be assigned a 
box, and their orders were to attack the first 
maritime target they detected. General al- 
Douri denied that they had targeted the 
American ship and accused the Stark of hav- 
ing strayed inside the Iranian exclusion 

zone. 22 The navy officers with Lang strongly 
denied this and accused the Iraqi pilot of 
being trigger-happy. Iraq refused to allow 
the Americans to interview the actual pilot. 
But Lang, fluent in Arabic, noticed a young 
major in the room who seemed to be answer- 
ing queries about the attack from his fellow 
Iraqis. "They brought the pilot, but just did 
not want us to know about him." The Amer- 
icans impressed on al-Douri that it was in 
their interest to be apologetic, especially with 
the United States providing them intelli- 
gence.— The Iraqi government agreed to pay 
$27 million in compensation to those killed. 

When the Americans left, Saddam Hus- 
sein's anxious mood transformed into mock- 
ing contempt. "If someone had attacked my 
ship, I would have bombed the airfield the 
plane came from!" the Iraqi dictator told 
senior aides in a meeting. 

Ihe Stark attack ignited another 
firestorm in Washington over the Reagan ad- 
ministration's Persian Gulf policies. The 
Reagan administration believed it was now 
even more imperative to continue with the 
reflagging. The consequences of an American 
pullout after the Stark would have been dis- 
astrous to U.S. interests, especially following 

on the heels of Beirut. 22 

Before the Stark, few within Congress 
showed any interest in attending Pentagon 
briefings about the Kuwaiti tanker operation. 
Now with the photographs of thirty-seven 
coffins in a hangar in Dover, Delaware, on 
the cover of every major newsmagazine, they 
suddenly held a flurry of contentious hear- 
ings divided largely along partisan lines sup- 
porting or opposing the idea of U.S. protec- 
tion for shipping in the Gulf. 3 ^ It did not 
help the Reagan administration that the 
political waters were already churned with 

the concurrent Iran-Contra hearings. 
Detractors denounced the undertaking on 
the floor of the House of Representatives, 
fearing it would draw the United States into 
another Vietnam, and insisted on the applic- 
ability of the War Powers Act, which re- 
quired the president to get congressional ap- 
proval for continuing any operation over 
sixty days. 

1 he United States pressed forward with 
the reflagging operation in the wake of the 
attack on the Stark and despite congression- 
al skepticism. Reagan resolutely defended 
his decision. "Mark this point well: the use of 
the vital sea-lanes of the Persian Gulf will not 
be dictated by the Iranians. These lanes will 
not be allowed to come under the control of 

the Soviet Union." 31 

Outside the public view, the entire nation- 
al security apparatus focused on the ability of 

Crist and Bernsen to avoid another such de- 
bacle. Six days after the Stark tragedy, on 
May 22, Crist flew to Washington for a series 
of meetings capped off by a meeting at the 
White House. An emotional Ronald Reagan 
had flown down to Jacksonville, Florida, for 
a memorial service for those killed on the 
Stark, but before leaving he'd given Carlucci 
instructions to make sure that the rules of 
engagement were broad enough and that the 
U.S. military had all the forces it needed to 
protect the Kuwaiti ships. General Robert 
Herres relayed this to Crist in a message for 
his eyes only and reported that the com- 
mander in chief had privately told the secret- 
ary that he wanted a "much more proactive 

stance." 32 With presidential interest, keeping 
the status quo was not an acceptable course 
of action. In a meeting in his office before 
driving over to the White House, Weinberger 
asked Crist point-blank if he had the forces 

to conduct the mission; if not, the secretary 
said, "you should ask for it." 

In the National Security Council meeting 
that afternoon, Crowe cautioned that he 
could not guarantee that there would be no 
further casualties, but that Iran's actions had 
been very circumspect. Iran knew we could 
hit its military or economic targets at will 
from our carrier. It is unlikely that Iran 
would try to challenge the U.S. convoys, 

Crowe told Carlucci. 33 Both Weinberger and 
Crowe pressed to liberalize the rules of en- 
gagement to avoid another such incident. 
Carlucci agreed, and said the president 
wanted to make sure that U.S. forces had 
everything they needed to complete their 
mission. He told Weinberger and Crowe to 
come back "urgent basis" on whether Crist 
needed more forces to carry out the escort 
operation. 34 

In a message that evening back-briefing 
Bernsen, Crist relayed the tone of the 

afternoon meeting in the White House Situ- 
ation Room: "The heat is very hot in the kit- 
chen." 35 

Bernsen did not think any modifications 
were needed to the rules governing use of 
force. The problem was the Stark, not the 
document. But the political realities in 
Washington demanded change. "We are on 
notice," Crist responded to Bernsen. "We 
can't afford a second hit. We shoot first. The 
captain is authorized, in fact required, to 
shoot if it is clear to the commanding officer 

that his ship has been placed at risk." 3 ^ 

The following day, Bernsen responded 
with some new rules. Any aircraft would be 
warned off at fifty nautical miles from any 
warship. Captains would be prepared to en- 
gage at twenty-five miles, or just outside the 
effective range of an Exocet missile. 

On June 8, Weinberger approved these 
changes. The new rules stressed the captain's 

ultimate responsibility for defending his ship 
against an attack or a threat that demon- 
strated hostile intent, such as laying mines or 

using its weapons radar. 32 U.S. ships or 
planes were still prohibited from entering in- 
to Iranian or Iraqi territorial waters or air- 
space, including the declared exclusion 
zones. The only exception was that if U.S. 
forces were attacked from these areas, they 
could pursue into them, but only if the hos- 
tile force continued to pose an imminent 
threat to the safety of the American plane or 
ship. The minute the threat ended, they had 
to withdraw immediately unless approved by 

the Joint Chiefs. 32 

Meanwhile, the operational name for the 
convoys, Private Jewels, struck some as 
dirty, and with the operation being reex- 
amined in a new light, the Pentagon changed 
the operational name to one that had a better 
ring to it: Earnest Will. 

vJn May 27, Central Command forwar- 
ded its revived escort plan. While simple, it 
had a number of moving parts. The Middle 
East Force would herd together one to three 
tankers off either Kuwait or Oman and then 
proceed along a southern Gulf route with 
each convoy guarded by two or three U.S. 
warships staying within four thousand yards 
of the tankers. Additional navy vessels would 
be stationed at both entrances to the Strait of 
Hormuz, just outside the range of the Irani- 
an Silkworm missiles. Another warship 
would be stationed in the northern Gulf to 
maintain the communications link with the 
Saudi-based AWACS. At twenty knots, it 
would take two days to transit, either 

inbound to Kuwait or outbound loaded with 
oil. 32 

If Iran tried to interfere, the carrier in the 
Gulf of Oman would be poised to strike. As a 
precaution, Crist ordered air force fighters to 
be ready to fly to Saudi Arabia and Oman. 
CENTCOM updated the Iran strike plans to 
include ten different targets for cruise mis- 
siles hitting naval and air defense sites 
around Iranian bases at Bandar Abbas, Jask, 
and Bushehr. 42 

The U.S. Navy had recently pulled four 
battleships out of mothballs. The chief of 
naval operations wanted to send one, the 
USS Missouri, to the Gulf to replace the air- 
craft carrier. The power of these World War 
II dreadnoughts captivated military planners 
in Tampa. Armed with nine 16-inch guns 
that each fired a shell weighing as much as a 
Volkswagen Beetle. They were now augmen- 
ted with advanced Tomahawk cruise missiles 
but remained the quintessential symbol of 

American gunboat diplomacy. The battleship 
could single-handedly destroy every Iranian 
military facility in the southern Persian Gulf. 
While its cruise missiles destroyed naval air 
force headquarters at Bandar Abbas, the 
"Mighty Mo," protected by a fourteen-inch- 
thick belt of armor, would steam up into the 
strait and its guns would pound the Silk- 
worm missile batteries into oblivion. A study 
produced by the Johns Hopkins University 
Applied Physics Laboratory concluded that 
the battleship could take eleven Silkworm 
missiles before being put out of action, and 
there were not enough missiles in the entire 
Iranian inventory to sink the forty-five- 
thousand-ton battlewagon. Suicide planes 
were even less of a problem. The Missouri 
had absorbed two off Okinawa in 1945 and 
escaped with little more than its paint 

scraped. 41 On June 12, the Joint Chiefs met 
in the Tank and agreed to send the battle- 
ship, supported by two cruisers and three 

destroyers, to the Gulf. Although the convoy 
operation would already be under way, this 
lethal task group would arrive in the Gulf by 
the end of August. 

Another group of officers under 
CENTCOM arrived in Baghdad to hash out a 
secret arrangement between the U.S. Navy 
and the Iraqi air force. The two countries 
came to a formal agreement that amounted 
to a series of electronic nods and winks that 
permitted Iraqi planes to continue to pound 
Iran's tankers and avoid running into the 
U.S. Navy. When Iraqi aircraft went "feet 
wet," as aviators term flying over water, the 
pilot announced his presence to any U.S. 
warship by turning on his radar for a couple 
of minutes. The American AWACS plane fly- 
ing out of Saudi Arabia would contact the 
Iraqi over a certain radio frequency provided 
every month to Iraqis by the U.S. military 

attache in Baghdad. 42 The Iraqi pilot would 
reply using a predetermined call sign, again 
provided by the U.S. military, and the 
AWACS would pass on the location of all the 

U.S. ships in the northern Gulf. 43 There were 
draconian measures if the Iraqi pilot failed to 
adhere to this protocol, including being shot 
down if he came within thirty nautical miles 
of a U.S. ship without contacting the Americ- 
ans. 44 

Initially this clandestine arrangement 
worked well. "I believe our initial under- 
standing with representatives of Iraq has sig- 
nificantly reduced the risk of engagement of 

our forces," Crowe told Weinberger. 45 The 
two nations refined these procedures over 
the coming months, improving the coordina- 
tion between Iraqi planes and the navy 

ships. ^ When Iraqi pilots made the Farsi 
hook, they were to relay this information and 
their new course to the Americans. Then, 

using a series of brevity codes agreed to by 
both countries, the Iraqis would pass inform- 
ation on their intended Iranian target and 
whether all the planes were going to hit the 
same or multiple sites. The communications 
between the United States and Iraq became 
sophisticated enough that U.S. controllers 
could steer Iraqi planes around navy war- 
ships. 42 Over the course of the next three 
months, further talks in Baghdad between 
the two nations refined their cooperative 
procedures. Middle East Force provided ad- 
vance details of American ship movements to 
Iraq. During talks with the chief of opera- 
tions for the Iraqi air force, Major General 
Salim Sultan, the United States helped Iraq 
refine its flight patterns to enable the Amer- 
icans to better monitor the Iraqis' positions 
and still allow them to attack Iranian ship- 
ping. The only disagreement came when a 
U.S. Air Force colonel tried to get Iraq to re- 
frain from attacking ships too far south in 

the Gulf. Salim responded, "If Saddam Hus- 
sein dictated the target, they must fly it." 
Since the Iraqi leader liked to pick targets, 
self-preservation prevented him from agree- 
ing to avoid any part of the Gulf to attack. 

The United States considered developing a 
similar arrangement with the Iranians, but it 
never went past a few discussions around a 
conference table in the Pentagon. Admiral 
Crowe had no interest in talking with Iran. 
As he told Weinberger in his endorsement of 
the Sharp Report on the Stark, "There has 
been no indication that the Government of 
Iran has any interest in the rational discus- 
sion of any relevant matters, including de- 

confliction procedures." 4 ^ 

Instead, the Iranians listened in on this 
steady stream of radio communications 
between the Americans and the Iraqis. 
Already aware of the ongoing intelligence 
sharing, this only reconfirmed their view of 
military collusion between their enemies. If 

the U.S. Navy and the Iraqi air force were co- 
operating, that made Bernsen's ships legit- 
imate targets in the eyes of the Iranian lead- 
ership. The Stark had unintentionally served 
as a wake-up call for the Revolutionary 
Guard too. 

If secret deals had brought the Arabs on 
board with the American reflagging scheme, 
serious cracks emerged within the military 
branch most responsible for executing the 
plan, the U.S. Navy. The real problem for the 
men wearing uniforms of dark blue and gold 
braid was that the times were a-changing 
and the conservative sea service was clinging 
to the past. Both modern warfare and the 
Goldwater-Nichols Act forced interoperabil- 
ity among the four services. The navy had 
largely worked alone, without paying too 
much attention to the army or air force. But 
Congress had tipped the balance of power to 

the four-star joint unified commanders with 
passage of Goldwater-Nichols, and the days 
of army- or navy-only military operations 
were over. The green and blue uniforms had 
been morphed into purple, as joint com- 
mand billets are informally called. 

In the coming years, the United States 
forged a far more effective military by mer- 
ging the sum of its parts, but the reflagging 
operation occurred during the middle of 
these growing pains. It required a genera- 
tional change in the officer corps, with the 
old officers replaced by those who had grown 
up in the new system. But in 1987, "the pro- 
spect of a Marine commanding an almost ex- 
clusively navy mission was deeply disturbing 
to many in the naval community," Crowe 
wrote in his memoirs. And Crist's military 
plans for Iran, which included air force 
AWACS and combat jets supporting navy 

ships, had ruffled the admirals' feathers. 43 

The one thing the two men agreed on was 
that Iran would not risk war by challenging 
the escort operations. Iran had no reason, it 
seemed, to fight the United States too. A 
CENTCOM intelligence paper reflected the 
prevailing view within the American intelli- 
gence community: "The primary threat to the 
U.S. convoys is another accidental attack like 
the Stark. It appears unlikely that Iran will 
intentionally attack a U.S. combatant or a 

Kuwait owned tanker under U.S. escort." 52 
CENTCOM did not consider the Iranian navy 
or aircraft a major threat, but the Silkworm 
missiles purchased from China were a differ- 
ent story. One site was active and another 
eight were near completion around the Strait 
of Hormuz. Intelligence sources indicated 
that the control of these missiles was highly 
centralized and that any decision to attack 
would have been made at the highest levels 
of the Iranian government: Ayatollah 
Khomeini. 51 

In June 1987, the U.S. State Department 
relayed a stern warning to Tehran via the 
Swiss embassy against using Silkworm mis- 
siles. The United States would view their use 
as a serious matter, and Washington would 
respond with massive force against military 
and economic sites. Iran never responded to 
the U.S. demarche, but despite all the hostil- 
ity between the two nations over the coming 
year, Iran never fired a single Silkworm mis- 
sile from its sites around the Strait of 

Iran did have some mines, but no one in 
Tampa or Washington gave it too much 
thought. On Friday, June 26, less than a 
month before the first convoy, a DIA analyst 
briefed a group of senior three-stars in the 
Tank about the Iranian mine threat. The in- 
telligence officer concluded his thirty-minute 
presentation: "We do not believe that Iran 
poses a major mine threat to the Gulf ship- 
ping at this time. Although the Iranians are 

capable of small scale mine laying... we es- 
timate that they do not have the capability to 
lay and maintain systematic minefields. The 
threat is primarily psychological." 

The analyst added that the Iranians lacked 
the training and expertise to lay mines and 
did not possess any proper minelayer. "Al- 
though small combatants or merchant ships 
could be modified for mine laying opera- 
tions, no modification efforts have been 
noted." As far as the use of small dhows was 
concerned: "The unsophisticated nature of 
these platforms wholly limit[s] them to small 

scale, imprecise mine operations." 52 

Unfortunately, leaders in Tehran did not 
read the American intelligence assessments. 
Iranian ingenuity and resourcefulness had 
an ugly surprise awaiting both CENTCOM 
and the U.S. Navy. 


The Invisible Hand of God 

vJn the morning of July 6, 1984, the 

small cargo ship Ghat left Libya on its way to 
the Eritrean port of Assab. The round-trip 
journey through the Suez Canal normally 
took eight days, but nothing about this trip 
was routine. Instead of the usual cargo of 
foodstuffs and crated goods, Ghat carried 
advanced Soviet-made naval mines designed 
to detonate in response to the mere sound of 
a passing ship. Rather than her normal civil- 
ian crew, Libyan sailors, including the com- 
mander of Moammar Gaddafi's mine force, 
manned the pilothouse. Once in the Red Sea, 
the sailors lowered the stern ramp and hast- 
ily rolled the mines off into the water, where 
they settled on the silted seafloor. The 

improvised minelayer sowed its destructive 
seeds around two important choke points at 
either end of the Red Sea: first at the north 
end of the Gulf of Suez, just before the Suez 
Canal, and then at the south end around the 
narrow strait of Bab el Mandeb, where one of 
the busiest shipping routes in the world nar- 
rowed to a mere twenty miles. 

It did not take long for the Libyans' handi- 
work to bring results. On the evening of July 
9, an explosion rocked the Soviet-flagged 
cargo ship Knud Jespersen just outside the 
Suez Canal. The Egyptian government kept 
the news of this incident quiet, not wishing 
to alarm the merchants who used the canal 
and provided a main source of revenue for 
Cairo. This proved impossible when there 
was a spate of ships hitting mines outside the 
canal and at the far end of the Red Sea 

around Bab el Mandeb. 1 

The August Red Sea mining became an in- 
ternational whodunit as newspapers 

speculated about whose hand was behind 
this terrorist attack against the world's com- 
merce. Egypt blamed Iran. Officials in 
Tehran had publicly boasted about using 
mines to close down the Strait of Hormuz as 
a means of punishing Gulf nations support- 
ing Iraq. Egyptian warships began boarding 
Iranian ships transiting the Suez Canal, look- 
ing for the culprit. 2 The Saudi government 
agreed. With the annual hajj about to begin, 
Riyadh thought Iran intended to embarrass 
the kingdom by mining the two Red Sea 
ports of Jeddah and Yanbu, where tens of 
thousands of white-clad pilgrims arrived. If 
one of those liners were to strike a mine, the 
loss of life would be horrific. American intel- 
ligence organizations remained skeptical, 
however, and an Office of Naval Intelligence 
report doubted Iran's involvement. Its navy 
had few mines and no ships to drop those it 
did possess. Communications intercepts 

soon revealed Moammar Gaddafi's 

The U.S. Navy joined an international nav- 
al flotilla to clear the mines. 3 At nine p.m. on 
August 6, Secretary of Defense Caspar Wein- 
berger signed a deployment order, and by 
midnight, transport aircraft were taking off 
from Norfolk, Virginia, carrying large 
RH-53D minesweeping helicopters plus two 

hundred personnel, all headed for Egypt. 4 
Once there, the crew assembled the heli- 
copter rotors and flew them out to the am- 
phibious ship USS Shreveport and the flag- 
ship of Middle East Force, USS La Salle, to 
begin sweeping for the remaining presents 

left by the Libyan leader. 5 Bitter memories 
remained from the recent debacle in Beirut, 
and the Italians and French refused to parti- 
cipate in any military arrangement with the 
United States. Paris had no desire to work 
with the American navy, publicly stating that 

P/ 4 / MJL 

it wanted no part of any American "crusade" 

in the Red Sea. 6 

Looking for mines was painstakingly slow. 
Sonar scanned along the ocean floor, with 
divers or remote-operation vehicles investig- 
ating suspicious objects. The Red Sea was 
littered with years of discarded items— old oil 
drums, pipes, coffee cans, automobiles, and 
mines left over from both the Second World 
War and the more recent Arab-Israeli wars. 
The American helicopters had the additional 
unpopular task of sweeping in front of the 
Saudi king's yacht when King Fahd took an 
ill-timed fourteen-mile day cruise from 

The mines of August eventually claimed 
sixteen ships. Only one mine was ever found; 
an explosives diver defused its charge, and 
the serial number 99501 indicated it was one 
of hundreds of similar coastal mines sold to 
Libya by the Soviet Union. During a seminar 
on the operation at the Naval Institute in 

Annapolis, Maryland, naval expert Scott 
Truver observed, "The threat of terrorist 
mining of important sea areas is real, rather 
easily carried out, and should be expected to 

increase." 2 One country took this lesson to 
heart: Iran. 

Ihe shah's navy had never paid much 
attention to naval mines. It had one plan on 
its books, written in 1970, that called for 
laying V-shaped minefields near the Strait of 
Hormuz, arrayed to halt shipping through 
the strait while still permitting its own 
tankers to get through. But before the re- 
volution, the Iranian navy had carried out 
only one mine-laying exercise. The war with 
Iraq spurred interest in naval mines by the 
new Islamic Republic of Iran. In 1981, Iran 
purchased a small number of unsophistic- 
ated moored contact mines from North 
Korea: the small Myam mine, with only a 

44-pound explosive charge, and the much 
larger M-08. Both were based upon ancient 
technology. The latter had been patterned 
after a 1908— that is, pre-First World 
War— Russian-designed mine. Shaped like a 
large black ball attached to a cradle that 
served as its anchor, it packed a potent 250- 
pound explosive charge, but required a ship 
to physically hit one of its pronounced horns, 
which ignited a chemical charge to set off the 
mine. Neither mine could be used in deep 
water, such as the Strait of Hormuz, but both 
could easily be laid throughout much of the 
shallower Arab side of the Persian Gulf. 

The Revolutionary Guard paid close atten- 
tion to the Red Sea mining. Tehran and 
Tripoli had friendly military relations and, 
on at least one occasion, the Iranian embassy 
arranged for a Revolutionary Guard officer 
to travel to Tripoli to talk with the Libyan 
commander who'd carried out the mining 
operation. The plausible deniability afforded 

by naval mines appealed to the Iranian lead- 
ership. Libya had suffered no consequences 
for its flagrant mining of international wa- 
ters. Libyan involvement remained murky; 
unless they were caught in the act, it was dif- 
ficult to prove who had laid the mines. Naval 
mines seemed the perfect, low-risk means of 
striking back at the Gulf Arabs. 

The Revolutionary Guard commander, 
Mohsen Rezai, formed a small group of eight 
officers to look into developing this capabil- 
ity for Iran. In late 1984, the team met at the 
National Defense Industries Organization in 
Tehran to try to reverse engineer some North 
Korean mines in order to produce an Iranian 
variant, while Libya provided a newer Soviet 
variant for comparison. The team construc- 
ted a large water tank filled with salt water 
near Tehran to test drop their mine and work 
out the many challenges of dropping the an- 
chor correctly to get the mine to deploy at 
the correct depth. Over the next year, 

engineers conducted four tests, which in- 
cluded an explosives test of the mine's 
charge in the Iranian desert. Poor engineer- 
ing plagued the design team. The detonation 
horns proved unreliable, the anchors re- 
peatedly failed, and the designers could not 
get the mines to set for a specific depth. 
Mines failed to deploy or went too high, leav- 
ing them bobbing on the surface. By 
mid-1985, however, the design team had suf- 
ficiently overcome most of these problems to 
begin production. In July, the first Iranian- 
designated SADAF-01 (Myam) and 
SADAF-02 (M-08) mines began rolling out 
of an ammunition plant north of Tehran. At 
least twenty-two mines were produced each 
week. The Iranians hoped to produce three 
thousand such mines, and started stockpiling 
them near Bandar Abbas and 155 miles north 
at the large Saidabad naval ammunition de- 
pot at Sirjan. Meanwhile, regular Iranian 
naval forces confiscated four fishing vessels 

at Bushehr and modified each with a stern 
ramp. While dressed as fishermen to dis- 
guise their mission, they repeatedly prac- 
ticed rolling dummy mines off the dhows. 

In March 1986, the elite Special Boat Ser- 
vice of the Iranian marines, a holdover from 
the shah's military, carried out Iran's first 
mining operations in the shallow waters off 
Iraq in support of the country's various of- 
fensives to take Basra. Joined by Revolution- 
ary Guards in small boats, they repeatedly 
slipped in close to the main Iraqi port of 
Umm Qasr to mine its channel and effect- 
ively shut down shipping to Iraq's major Per- 
sian Gulf port. s 

Iran developed a military plan called the 
Ghadir, named for an early Shia battle, to 
fight the American navy. Approved in 1984, 
it became Iran's main plan to retaliate 
against an American attack. The Revolution- 
ary Guard and the regular navy would form 
four surface groups, each comprising a 

destroyer or frigate supported by a number 
of guard small boats and logistics vessels 
converted into minelayers, and move quickly 
under the cover of air and artillery to lay 
three large minefields west of the Strait of 
Hormuz. The objective was to deny any 
tanker traffic from passing through the 
strait, except those headed to Iran, which 
would safely use several routes deliberately 
left open through the minefields. Once this 
mission had been completed, the four task 
forces would attack U.S. Navy ships within 

On paper, the Ghadir plan looked impress- 
ive and indicated significant cooperation 
between the regular military and the guard. 
In reality, the Iranian military never dis- 
played any semblance of such coordinated 
efforts, due largely to animosity between the 
Revolutionary Guard and the regular Iranian 
navy. Any joint command to control naval 
forces never evolved beyond paper. 

However, when American special operations 
forces uncovered the Ghadir plan in 1987, 
the audacity of Iran's mining ambitions im- 
pressed the U.S. military. In two short years, 
it had gone from a saltwater tank in the 
desert to the conceivable ability to lay hun- 
dreds of mines and halt Gulf oil exports. 

In May, Iran decided to try out some of 

its newly minted mines on Kuwait in hopes 
of intimidating the emir into reversing his 
decision to reflag his tankers with the Amer- 
icans. 2 Two large Iranian dhows left 
Bushehr, mingling with the normal fishing 
and smuggling trade. They dropped fourteen 
mines in two parallel lines radiating off one 

of the channel's navigation buoys. m The 
mines were carefully spaced thirty meters 
apart. So as not to interfere with their own 
fishing and smuggling trade, the Iranians 

made sure to set the mines' depth to at least 
ten feet, well below the depth of a dhow but 
shallow enough to damage a large oil tanker. 
On the same day the Stark met misfor- 
tune, the sixty-eight-thousand-ton Soviet 
tanker Marshal Chuykov entered the main 
deep-water entrance to Kuwait, Mina al-Ah- 
madi, to take on a load of Kuwaiti crude. Two 
miles east of the two navigation buoys that 
marked the channel's entrance, a massive ex- 
plosion rocked the tanker, blowing an eight- 
by-six-meter hole in her starboard side, 
which required extensive repairs at the dry- 
dock facilities in Dubai. Over the next 
month, three more ships hit mines, all within 
three-quarters of a mile of where the 
Chuykov had met misfortune. "We have po- 
tentially a serious situation here," 
CENTCOM commander George Crist told 

Joint Chiefs chairman William Crowe. 11 

The American ambassador to Kuwait, 
Anthony Quainton, asked the Kuwaitis to 

undertake a more assertive military surveil- 
lance to prevent additional mines from being 
laid. But the Kuwaitis lacked both the hard- 
ware and the fortitude to counter this chal- 
lenge from Iran, and their initial reaction 
was to try to hire someone to do the job for 
them. They also looked into leasing Dutch 
minesweepers. As the Iranian mines 
threatened the entire forthcoming convoy 
operation, Washington offered to remove 
them, which pleased the emir, so long as it 
did not bring too many Americans into his 

The United States quietly dispatched an 
eighteen-man team with twenty tons of 

equipment to take care of the mines. 12 Arriv- 
ing on June 22, they quickly set to work op- 
erating from a Kuwaiti tug at the entrance to 
the Mina al-Ahmadi channel. Three days 
later, their sonar picked up a mine on a shal- 
low reef in a hundred feet of water— its 
round explosive case was floating just ten 

feet below the surface. Divers defused it and 
flew it back to the United States for analysis. 
The United Kingdom had its own sources 
and had acquired a list of serial numbers of 
mines manufactured in Iran. When the Brit- 
ish compared their list with the number 
stenciled in white lettering on the side of the 
mine found by the Americans, the number 
matched up perfectly in the correct 

Over the next month, nine more mines 
were discovered and destroyed by navy 

divers. 13 Carefully laid to cover the channel, 
they were clearly not the result of haphazard 
mining by a few dhows, but a carefully 
planned attack on Kuwaiti shipping. Re- 
markably, when faced with an obvious Irani- 
an military attack against Kuwait using naval 
mines, no one in either Tampa or Washing- 
ton bothered to change the assumptions 
guiding the American convoy operations. 
Bernsen, Crist, and Crowe continued to 

believe that Iran would never dare to take 
such an overt action against the United 
States. Faith in the deterrent effect of the 
carrier and American firepower clouded 
every level of American thinking. CENTCOM 
took the modest step of requesting that a 
helicopter minesweeping squadron in Nor- 
folk be placed on standby for the Persian 
Gulf. Some officers speculated that Iran 
might attack the convoys with suicide boats 
or conduct terrorist attacks against the 
Middle East Force, and additional marine se- 
curity forces arrived to protect the Middle 
East Force headquarters in Bahrain. But no 
one wanted to believe that Tehran would 
mine beyond Kuwait Harbor, despite a grow- 
ing body of intelligence that warned of more 
mining in the Gulf. The navy leadership 
pressured both Crowe and Weinberger to 
minimize the forces for Earnest Will, and 
this contributed to the complacency that 
gripped U.S. military leadership regarding 

Iran's reaction to the United States protect- 
ing one of Iraq's chief supporters. Saudi 
minesweepers arrived on scene, and as the 
date for the first convoy approached, the 
combined presence of Saudi and Kuwaiti 
vessels backed by U.S. expertise seemed ad- 
equate to deal with any further Iranian ac- 
tions against shipping. Satisfied, Bernsen 
even recommended sending home some of 
the eighteen men, so as not to aggravate 
Kuwaiti sensitivities. 

Ihe Iranian leadership worried about 

attacking the Americans directly. With their 
mining of Kuwait Harbor having failed to 
change the Kuwaiti emir's mind about work- 
ing with the Americans, a heated debate 
emerged within the Supreme Defense Coun- 
cil, Iran's national security decision-making 
body. Senior officers in the regular Iranian 
military urged caution. They had spent much 

of their careers working with Americans and 
knew firsthand the destructive power the 
United States could bring down on Iran. But 
Revolutionary Guard commander Major 
General Mohsen Rezai dismissed their con- 
cerns. He believed the navy and air force of- 
ficers still harbored an affinity for the Amer- 
icans and were too enamored of technology. 
He pressed for a direct confrontation with 
the Americans and urged attacking U.S. 

"The Americans cannot take casualties. Vi- 
etnam and Beirut showed that," he told his 
colleagues during one meeting in Tehran in 
June. "Any losses and the Americans will flee 
the Gulf!" Rezai and other guard gener- 
als—whose military experience was limited 
to fighting against the anemic Iraqi 
army— largely dismissed the importance of 
American airpower. We have been able to 
contend with the Western-backed Iraqi air 

force for seven years; we can contend with 
the American bombers too, they argued. 

The ever pragmatic Hashemi Rafsanjani 
came down in the middle. Pressuring Kuwait 
into withdrawing support for Iraq was a ne- 
cessity for an Iranian victory, and the Amer- 
ican convoys only propped up Saddam Hus- 
sein, he stated. But American pilots were far 
better than Iraqi pilots; he pointed out that 
the Americans had been able to drop a bomb 
right down on Gaddafi's house during the air 
attack against Libya in April 1986. The 
Americans could do the same to the supreme 
leader's home. Naval mines, however, ap- 
pealed to Rafsanjani. Covert mining against 
the Americans could inflict the losses needed 
to drive them out of the Gulf, but still 
lessened the likelihood of a massive Americ- 
an reprisal. Rather than attack them directly 
as Rezai advocated, how about surrepti- 
tiously mining the paths of the American 
ships? The final decision rested with 

Ayatollah Khomeini. In early July, the su- 
preme leader sided with Rafsanjani, over the 
vocal objections of Rezai. He ordered a secret 
mining campaign against the forthcoming 
American convoys, but no overt attack on 
any U.S. warship. 

American intelligence knew nothing of the 
debate going on in Tehran. Instead, the chat- 
ter warned of an Iranian terrorist attack 
against Bernsen's headquarters in Bahrain. 
Weinberger ordered U.S. personnel to avoid 
public venues and restrict themselves to 
their homes or work, and he detached addi- 
tional marines to guard the base. 14 

he U.S. military made preparations for 

the first Kuwaiti convoy. In order to meet the 
legal requirement of American ownership, 
the Kuwait Oil Tanker Company established 
a dummy company in Dover, 

Delaware— Chesapeake Shipping Inc.— and 
intended to reregister all eleven ships 
between mid-June and the end of August. 
Coast guard inspectors arrived in Kuwait to 
ensure the ships met U.S. safety regulations; 

many of the requirements were waived. 15 Al- 
though most of the crew remained foreign 
nationals, Kuwait hired new American mas- 
ters from the Gleneagle Ship Management 
Company in Houston. One of the first to re- 
port was a retired navy captain, Frank Seitz, 
Jr. He took over the largest ship and the first 
to be reflagged, the sixth-largest tanker in 
the world, the four-hundred-thousand-ton 

al-Rekkah, now renamed the Bridgeton.— 

In the first two weeks of July, General 
Crist traveled twice to Washington to brief 

the chiefs and Weinberger in the Tank. 12 
Bahrain had agreed to combined air strikes 
should Iran attack the island in retaliation 
for its support of the United States. Kuwait 
remained more reticent, despite the United 

States escorting their convoys, and would 
permit American combat planes in the emir- 
ate only in the event of an Iranian invasion. 
Should this occur, Crist expected the emir to 
request American combat forces. 

Crowe and Weinberger drove to Capitol 
Hill to brief congressional leaders on the 
classified details of the operation. Immedi- 
ately after the hearing, the chairman of the 
House Armed Services Committee, Les 
Aspin, held a press conference and pro- 
ceeded to describe all the sensitive details of 
the operation, including the number of ships 

and even Saudi Arabia's AWACS support.— 
The next morning, the Washington Post 
printed even more details, including the spe- 
cifics of sensitive overflight agreements with 
the emirates. Both Weinberger and Crowe 
were livid both at Aspin and about the dam- 
aging leak. 

A defensive Aspin phoned Crowe. "If it was 
a classified briefing, why wasn't I told? No 

one ever told me it was a classified brief- 
ing." 12 

"I assumed you knew it was all classified. 
All ships' schedules are classified," replied a 
disbelieving chairman. 

"No one ever told me it was classified," 
Aspin persisted. "I think I was set up!" Wein- 
berger would later mockingly refer to Aspin's 
gaffe as "Les's lips sink ships." 

wn July 21, 1987, a flag-raising cere- 
mony occurred on the fantail of the 
thousand-foot-long Bridgeton. In the 
sprawling Oman anchorage of Khor Fakkan, 
as dozens of ships sat waiting to transit the 
strait, a small gathering of Kuwaiti officials 
and military officers looked on as Ambassad- 
or Quainton hoisted the Stars and Stripes up 
the flagpole, where a strong breeze snapped 
it to attention in the hot, muggy summer 

air.— The flag had been provided by a con- 
gressman from Kentucky, who had wanted to 
raise it himself, but in deference to Kuwaiti 
sensitivities and to keep this low-key, Quain- 

ton decided to do the honor himself.— 

Concerned that the leaks had tipped Iran 
to the start of the first convoy, Bernsen took 
additional precautions to remain distant 
from the other ships at anchorage. The U.S. 
warships manned their weapons in case Iran 
attempted to attack the convoy while 
anchored. Bernsen conferred with Crist that 
evening as to U.S. military response options 
in case Iran tried its own version of Pearl 

Harbor. 22 

The anxious night passed uneventfully. 
With no sign of Iranians lurking off Oman, 
the next morning the first Earnest Will con- 
voy headed for the Strait of Hormuz. Escor- 
ted by two American cruisers and a smaller 
frigate, it comprised two reflagged ships, the 

massive tanker Bridgeton and a smaller, 
liquefied-gas carrier, Gas Prince. 

The first ten hours of the two-day transit 
was seen as the most dangerous period. The 
convoy would be at its most vulnerable while 
within easy range of the Iranian Silkworm 
missiles ringing the strait, so CENTCOM or- 
chestrated a complex ballet in the skies 
above the ships consisting of navy and air 
force surveillance planes, aerial refueling 
tankers, and fighters. A four-engine P-3 
code-named Reef Point and secretly staged 
on the Omani island of Masirah used ad- 
vanced optics to look in on the Iranian mis- 
sile sites. Fighters and bombers from the car- 
rier two hundred miles out in the Gulf of 
Oman kept an overhead vigil, maintained 
aloft by airborne pit stops provided by three 
large air force refueling planes based on the 

small Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia. 23 
The air force launched a sleek black SR-71 
Blackbird reconnaissance jet from halfway 

around the world. Taking off from Kadena, 
Okinawa, it was supported by no less than 
fifteen tanker jets stationed along the route. 
The Blackbird cut its way across the Strait of 
Hormuz and the Persian Gulf, flying at Mach 
3 and on the edge of space at eighty thou- 
sand feet. Heavy cloud cover nearly scuttled 
the mission, but the skies cleared as the 
Blackbird arrived over the strait. Once it had 
taken its photos and its sensors had collected 
data on the Iranian missiles, the two pi- 
lots—Majors Mike Smith and Doug 
Soifer— did a wide, lazy turn over the north- 
ern Gulf before heading back to the other 
side of the globe at an estimated cost of $1 
million for the exhausting eleven-hour mis- 
sion. 24 None of these aircraft saw anything 
unusual, and Bernsen gave the go-ahead for 
the convoy to proceed. 

For the next ten hours, both Crowe and 
Crist stayed in their respective command 
centers in Washington and Tampa, linked by 

an open secure telephone. Crist provided 
regular updates to the chairman, all the 
while sucking down one Carlton cigarette 
after another. The only tense moment came 
when the radar of one of the escorts, the USS 
Kidd, picked up an unidentified helicopter 
closing on the convoy. The warship fired a 
warning flare, and the helicopter abruptly 
turned away. It turned out to be carrying 
nothing more dangerous than the fourth es- 
tate: a team of reporters and photographers. 

Having entered the Gulf without incident, 
everyone relaxed until the convoy ap- 
proached the next danger area, a base for Re- 
volutionary Guard small boats around the 
Iranian island of Abu Musa. Again, the Irani- 
an forces appeared apathetic, and the convoy 
continued northward. The only bellicosity 
came from Iranian radio. "If the big shots in 
Washington think they can make the Islamic 
Republic bow to their oppressive policies by 
military display and threats, much more 

PI)// aij 

bitter consequences than the experiences of 
Lebanon or Vietnam await them." 25 

Despite the supreme leader's directive, Re- 
volutionary Guard commander General 
Rezai still wanted to attack the convoy. On 
his own authority, he ordered the small boats 
at Farsi to attack the convoy when it passed 
Farsi Island on the night of July 23. 
However, someone in the Revolutionary 
Guard tipped off Ayatollah Khomeini, who 
immediately reined in his overeager com- 
mander, ordering him to keep with the 
agreed mining operation and avoid a direct 
fight with the American navy. 

Now a chastised Rezai abided by his or- 
ders. A small lighter left Farsi and headed 
due west some twenty miles until it found a 
prominent navigation buoy called Middle 
Shoals, and then it turned north along the 
tanker route for another ten miles. Here the 
tanker traffic narrowed as it turned to skirt 
around the Iranian-declared war exclusion 

zone. A special unit of the Revolutionary 
Guard, which had spent several weeks prac- 
ticing for this mission, laid a string of nine 
mines, each five hundred yards apart, and 
then hastened back to Farsi. 

Just after sunset on July 23, American 
communications intercepts detected two 
fiberglass boats coming out of Farsi Island. 
Bernsen's intelligence officer, Commander 
Howell Conway Ziegler, came to Bernsen's 
stateroom on the La Salle and the two com- 
pared notes about what this development 
meant. The Iranian actions and a summary 
of the Revolutionary Guard's chatter all 
seemed to indicate that Iran planned to at- 
tack the convoy with speedboats as it passed 
Farsi. Ironically, American intelligence had 
discovered Rezai's aborted unauthorized at- 
tack but completely missed the actually min- 
ing operation that followed. 

After reporting this back to Crist, Bernsen 
ordered the convoy to take a different route 

to avoid the main channel into Kuwait and to 
slow its speed in order to pass Farsi Island 
the next morning, as daylight would permit 
better targeting of the attacking small 

boats. 26 

At first light, Bernsen ordered a helicopter 
aloft to scout ahead of the convoy, and with 
the cruiser USS Fox in the van, the convoy 
proceeded past the menacing Iranian island 
without sighting a single attack boat or even 
a fishing dhow. Back in the Pentagon, Crowe 
greeted this news with relief. He called 
Weinberger and reported that the worst ap- 
peared to be over. The convoy was headed 
for Kuwait, and he expected to turn over the 
two tankers to their navy that afternoon. 
From the bridge of the Bridgeton, breakfast 
trays could be seen being passed to the crew 
on watch, down along the three-football- 
fi eld-long deck of the supertanker. 

Suddenly the master, Captain Seitz, heard 
a metallic clank. An undulating shock wave 

rippled down the length of the ship as if 
someone had taken the edge of a rug and 
whipped it rapidly. When the wave reached 
the bridge, "it felt like a five-hundred-ton 
hammer hit," Seitz recalled. The impact sent 
trays full of bacon and eggs flying as the men 
held on to keep from being thrown to the 
ground. "There wasn't much question that 

we had hit a mine." 22 The mine had blown a 
fifty-square-meter hole in the side of the 
mammoth tanker. The Bridgeton slowed but, 
despite the damage, did not stop. Its cav- 
ernous empty hold could easily accommod- 
ate the flooding compartments. The much 
smaller U.S. warships, however, would not 
be so lucky if they hit a mine. They quickly 
scrabbled to take refuge behind the large 
tanker, the guards protected by their charge 
as they sheepishly traveled in the wake of the 
Bridgeton to avoid hitting additional mines. 

In the early morning hours, news of the 
Bridgeton mining rippled through the U.S. 

government as quickly as it had through the 
hull of the supertanker. Crist, who was mon- 
itoring the operation from his command cen- 
ter in Tampa, "literally came out of his chair" 
when he heard the news, one witness re- 
called. The duty officer in the National Milit- 
ary Command Center phoned a sleeping Ad- 
miral Crowe at his quarters at Fort Myer, no- 
tifying him of the Bridgeton's plight. Crowe 
took an unusual action for the nation's seni- 
or military officer: he picked up the phone 
and called straight down to Bernsen on his 
flagship in the Gulf. Crowe liked Bernsen. 
The two had met in Germany, and the chair- 
man had been impressed by Bernsen's grasp 
of Gulf politics and the complexities of the 
Kuwaiti convoy mission. Crowe had even en- 
dorsed Bernsen's membership in the New 
York Yacht Club, and frequently called him 

directly, often without Crist's knowledge. 

"What the hell's going on?" Crowe asked 

Bernsen filled him in on the details. The 
Bridgeton had hit a mine. There were no cas- 
ualties, and the convoy was continuing up to 

Kuwait at half speed. 29 Crowe summoned his 
driver, immediately threw on his uniform, 
and headed for the Pentagon. 

When the convoy had safely reached 
Kuwait, Bernsen sat at his desk in his state- 
room. "It is a new ballgame and we are not 
playing games," he thought. Bernsen penned 
a message for his boss in Tampa. "The events 
of this morning represent a distinct and seri- 
ous change in Iranian policy vis a vis U.S. 
military interests in the Persian Gulf. There 
is no question that Iranian Forces specific- 
ally targeted the escort transit group and 
placed mines in the water with the intent to 
damage/sink as many ships as possible." 
That the Bridgeton was the only victim was 
due entirely to the luck of the draw. Iran had 
made the calculation that either the United 
States would not retaliate or Iran could 

survive a strike similar to that inflicted on 
Libya, he said, referring to the U.S. bombing 
the year before in response to Gaddafi's 
bombing of a disco in Berlin. 32 But Bernsen 
cautioned against the knee-jerk air strike. 
The Iranian population was war-weary, and 
any attack on their mainland would serve to 
help rally the population behind the govern- 
ment. "We don't need martyrs in Bandar 

That afternoon, Bernsen and Crist held a 
long phone call to discuss the way forward. 
Although neither man had expected such an 
audacious move by Iran, both agreed on the 
need to avoid dragging the United States into 
a war with the country. They mulled over 
other ways to respond, including a naval 
blockade or even mining Bandar Abbas. The 
first priority, however, was clearing out the 
mines. Crist ordered a halt to further con- 
voys until they could get new forces in to 
support Bernsen's Middle East Force. 

The Iranian leaders gloated at news of the 
Bridgeton's misfortune. They publicly attrib- 
uted the mines' sudden appearance to divine 
intervention, the work of the invisible hand 
of God. The day after the Bridgeton mining, 
the speaker of Iran's parliament, Hashemi 
Rafsanjani, praised those responsible as 
"God's angels that descend and do what is 
necessary." 31 Prime Minister Mir-Hossein 
Mousavi added, "The U.S. schemes were 
foiled by invisible hands. It was proved how 
vulnerable the Americans are despite their 
huge and unprecedented military operation 
in the Persian Gulf to escort Kuwaiti 

tankers." 32 After the mission, the Revolu- 
tionary Guard commandos who'd laid the 
mines each reportedly received a gold watch, 
given by General Rezai and the chief of the 
Iranian navy, as a reward for their heroism. 

Ihe mining had caught the Pentagon 
embarrassingly unprepared. That morning, a 
scheduled meeting with the president and 
his principals on Vietnam POWs went by the 
side as they talked about how to respond to 
Iran. The false assumption that Iran would 
not mine outside of Kuwait's channel had 
been based more on the American desire to 
keep force levels small than on any credible 
intelligence. Considerably more ships would 
be needed, especially minesweepers. The 
most powerful navy in the world had been 
attacked by speedboats dropping mines, and 
the convoys could not resume until the mine 
hazard was addressed. 

Reagan set a circumspect tone at the open- 
ing: "Let's take our time and determine what 
happened before taking any action," the 
president said. 

Crowe opened with a quick update. It was 
clear the Bridgeton had struck a mine. While 

the intelligence community had yet to con- 
clusively prove Iranian culpability, the ad- 
miral had no doubt about who'd laid the 
mines. The chairman then gave a rundown 
on American countermine capabilities. The 
helicopters of Helicopter Mine Countermeas- 
ures Squadron 14 (HM-14), which had been 
on seventy-two-hour standby, would be the 
most immediate solution, but they were ex- 
pensive and needed an air base to operate 
from; otherwise, a ship would have to be 
brought up into the Gulf to serve as a plat- 
form for the helicopters. 33 To address the 
long-term requirement, Crowe said, we 
would need minesweeping ships in the Gulf. 

The first course would be to ask the Saudis 
for help in clearing the mines. The kingdom 
had four American-made minesweepers built 
during the 1970s, although they operated 
more as patrol boats than as mine hunters. 
Crowe offered to work with Prince Bandar, 
although he had little regard for the Saudis' 

training and little faith in any real coopera- 
tion. 34 

The next day, Crowe called Bandar. Des- 
pite their differing backgrounds, the admiral 
from Oklahoma and the wealthy Saudi fight- 
er pilot had developed a close relationship. 
The two men spoke several times a week, 
and soon every day. Both were politically 
savvy, and they shared hawkish views on 
Iran. Bandar often dropped by Crowe's office 
unannounced, and the chairman frequently 
cleared his calendar to make way for the 
young prince, who had a deserved reputation 
as the consummate Washington insider. 

"We really need your help. We need your 
minesweepers to clear the convoy route," 
Crowe said, his serious inflection revealing 
the gravity of the crisis. 

"We are looking at the best way forward," 
Bandar answered. "The problem is people 
around here don't know how to keep their 
mouths shut. We don't want our assistance 

advertised in the papers. Could you send 
someone to my home to talk about this?" 
Crowe immediately dispatched a general to 
Bandar's home to go over the requirements. 

Three days later Bandar called back and 
said his father, Prince Sultan, who served as 
the defense minister, had agreed to sweep 
the main Kuwaiti channel down to where the 
Bridgeton had met misfortune. Bandar's op- 
timism failed to imprint on the Saudi leth- 
argy, however. Crist soon called Crowe to re- 
port that no one had seen a Saudi sweeper, 
and in fact the Saudi navy had just let all its 
captains go on three weeks' leave. 

Frustrated, Crowe called Bandar and 
asked about recalling the captains. Another 
day passed before Bandar responded with 
the news that his father had ordered the cap- 
tains back and that they would sweep for 
mines every day. True to his word, that after- 
noon the first Saudi sweeper appeared in the 
Gulf. In what became a familiar pattern over 

the coming days, the ship steamed around 
for a few hours and stayed well away from 
Farsi Island and any Iranian mines. 

The Europeans proved even more unac- 
commodating. At the request of Weinberger, 
Secretary of State Shultz sent letters to the 
governments of Britain, France, the Nether- 
lands, and Germany requesting mine-clear- 
ing vessels, hoping to "portray a multination- 
al commitment against the illegal mining of 

international waters." 35 In less than a week, 
all the European allies had turned down the 
secretary of state's request for assistance in 
what they viewed as a unilateral American 
military action to support Iraq. Only the 
French offered a counterproposal. Paris pro- 
posed selling the Americans two of its own 
mine hunters, manned by nonuniformed 
French sailors until American crews could be 
trained to take their place. The U.S. Navy 
had little interest in buying French ships, so 
Crowe tried to get the Kuwaitis to lease the 

two vessels for their navy. Neither Kuwait 
nor France showed any interest in that 

At ten a.m. on July 27, Crowe met in his 
office with Admiral Carlisle Trost, the chief 
of naval operations, and operations officer 
Vice Admiral Hank Mustin. Sitting around a 
small round table, they discussed their op- 
tions for dealing with Iranian mines. Neither 
man had much enthusiasm for the convoy 
mission, especially Mustin, who vocally op- 
posed both the operation and CENTCOM's 
control over navy ships. 

"Why haven't the Saudis or the Europeans 
taken the mine-clearing mission?" Trost 

"The secretary is pushing forward on that," 
Crowe answered, "but we need to get our 
own assets over there now. The political 
pressure is growing to get the convoys restar- 
ted ASAP, and Secretary Weinberger is grow- 
ing impatient." 

Everyone agreed that the quickest re- 
sponse would be to fly the HM-14 helicopters 
over and marry them up with a ship, and the 
best candidate was the eight-hundred-man 
amphibious ship USS Guadalcanal. Essen- 
tially a small aircraft carrier, she was cur- 
rently off the coast of Kenya loaded with 
marines headed for an exercise in Somalia. 
Long term, the United States needed to send 
its own minesweeping ships, all currently 
based on the East and West Coasts and 
manned by reservists. 

Crowe then updated Weinberger. Anything 
in the American inventory that could sweep a 
mine and could be loaded on a plane or ship 
was headed for the Gulf: eight helicopters 
from HM-14 could be in the Gulf in early 
August and would operate from the Guadal- 
canal; four small eighty-ton minesweeping 
boats located in Charleston, South Carolina, 
and designed to sweep mines around U.S. 
harbors would be loaded onto the 

amphibious ship USS Raleigh and arrive in 
early September. Six larger minesweepers 
could be readied, but they would not arrive 
until November. 

The timing of the Gulf fiasco could not 
have been worse for the Reagan administra- 
tion. The Iran-Contra congressional hearings 
playing live on television reached their 
zenith. Oliver North and John Poindexter 
had testified, with Weinberger next on the 
docket. Even as he admitted to shredding 
documents, lying, and breaking the law, 
North emerged as something of a folk hero, a 
"Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" marine. As 
Newsweek reported, "North took the Hill 
with a mixture of straight-arrow toughness, 

flag-wrapped piety and macho swagger." 3 ^ 
After his testimony, Reagan sent him a mes- 
sage: "Good Job." 

Poindexter took the fall. The navy admiral 
never strayed from his Buddha-like compos- 
ure. During questioning, he frequently pulled 

out his Zippo lighter to reignite his pipe, a 
technique that allowed him a few extra 
seconds to compose his thoughts. 

Poindexter remained unshakable in his 
testimony that he believed Reagan would 
have supported the initiative, but that he'd 
deliberately kept him in the dark in order to 
shield the president from such a controver- 
sial policy. 32 

Meanwhile, the clamor opposing the con- 
voy mission grew not only within Congress 
but inside the administration. The chief 
cheerleader for the opposition was the newly 
installed secretary of the navy, James Webb. 
The youthful new secretary was a Naval 
Academy classmate of OUie North's, and the 
two forceful personalities had engaged in an 
intramural boxing match that grew famous 
as the two men rose in prominence. Webb 
had received the Navy Cross— the second 
highest award— as a junior officer before 
turning his talent to writing and penning a 

popular novel about Vietnam, Fields of Fire. 
He frequently offered up his opinion as an 
armchair general, although his expertise was 
that of a company-grade officer. He served 
three years as an assistant secretary, and 
Weinberger liked him. In 1987, when the 
current head of the navy, John Lehman, 
stepped down, the defense secretary recom- 
mended to Reagan that Webb replace him. 
Weinberger soon regretted the decision and 
repeatedly clashed with headstrong Webb 
over defense budgets and American policy. 

"How will we know when we've won?" 
Webb asked Weinberger skeptically during 
one meeting in May. "What is victory? Why 
are we getting involved in the middle of a 
war in the Persian Gulf?" 

"Every time we successfully sail a convoy 
through the Gulf we have asserted our right 
to freedom of navigation and that is a vic- 
tory," Weinberger answered. 

Webb's comments irritated the secretary. 
"We have the most powerful navy in the 
world and we can't keep oil flowing against 
an enemy armed only with Boston Whalers 
and a few ancient mines?" he asked in disbe- 
lief one afternoon. Publicly, Webb came 
around to support the convoy operation, but 
privately, he compared the open-ended oper- 
ation to another Vietnam. 

Instead, Bernsen proposed putting togeth- 
er a makeshift minesweeper. He told Crist 
they could outfit a civilian tug with mine- 
sweeping gear. It would travel ahead of the 
convoys, streaming V-shaped paravanes with 
serrated cables that would cut loose any Ira- 
nian mines. The mines would float to the 
surface and be easily destroyed by gunfire. 
He just needed to find a vessel with a large 
open space at its stern. 

The day after the Bridgeton mining, 
Bernsen picked up the phone and called 
Fattah al-Bader, the head of the Kuwait Oil 

Tanker Company. As they were on an unse- 
cured commercial phone, Bernsen talked 
around the issue, explaining that he was 
looking for an oil service craft with a large aft 
deck on which to "rig some things. "^ Al- 
Bader replied that he had two vessels that 
might work, two oceangoing tugs named 
Hunter and Striker, currently at Khor 
Fakkan. The next day, Bernsen flew to 

Kuwait to discuss the idea. 32 Al-Bader ques- 
tioned Bernsen about the safety of the two 
tugs. While they were registered in Liberia, 
the crew worked for him. "What if they hit a 

"That would be unlikely," Bernsen replied. 
"The Iranian mines are all set below the two 
tugs' twelve-foot draft." 

The idea that the U.S. Navy had to depend 
on two tugs seemed laughable inside the 
Pentagon, had it not been for the seriousness 
of the problem. Experts viewed it as a politic- 
al stunt, a deterrent at best, designed to look 

as though we had done something to address 
Iran's mining. Even if the two tugs cut a 
mine, it would still be impossible for one of 
the massive tankers following behind to 
either stop or turn fast enough to avoid the 
now floating mine. Even more alarming, as 
evidence soon showed, due either to incom- 
petence or to poor design, the Iranian mines 
laid off Farsi Island sat anywhere from the 
surface to the bottom of the ocean. The two 
tugs had as much chance of striking a mine 

as had the Bridgeton.^ Nevertheless, Crowe 
decided there was no real alternative in the 
short run. 

On July 28, the chairman ordered the de- 
ployment of minesweeping kits from a ware- 
house in Norfolk along with the eight sailors 
needed to operate the equipment. The two 
tugs arrived at the small Basrec shipyard in 
Bahrain, where, under the direction of Brit- 
ish expatriate managers, crews worked 
around the clock welding additional deck 

plates and adding a crane that would be 
needed for Hunter's and Striker's unusual 
new mission. A quick shakedown followed, 
and the system worked satisfactorily. Moving 
side by side, the two tugs could clear a lane 
270 yards wide— more than wide enough to 
allow the safe passage of the largest of the re- 
flagged tankers with some safety margin on 
each side. Those operating these two tugs 
knew the hazardous nature of their new 
duty. In addition to the four-man American 
augmentees, each tug had a small polyglot 
crew from Sri Lanka and Pakistan, all under 
the command of a British expatriate. Their 
sole job would be to sweep before the con- 
voys. Should any mine be laid at less than 
the ship's twelve-foot draft, they would be- 
come human minesweepers. Shortly before 
the first convoy, Bernsen recalled being 
asked by a rather nervous tug captain, "Do 
you think this is very safe?" Bernsen's reply 
did little to reassure him: "I hope the Kuwait 

Oil Tanker Company is paying you double 
for this, because I think you deserve it." 41 

.Lieutenant Commander Frank DeMasi 
had been watching the television news of the 
Bridgeton. "You know, XO," he said to his 
number two, Ken Merrick, one afternoon 
while the two sat drinking coffee in the small 
captain's cabin of the minesweeper Inflict, 
"we are going to the Persian Gulf." Like other 
skippers in the minesweeping force, the 
fifteen-year navy veteran and Pennsylvania 
native had an aura of self-assurance. 

"Sir, we're thirty-five-year-olds; we've got 
a reserve crew," Merrick replied. "No way are 
they ever going to send us to war!" Most in 

the navy would have agreed with him. 42 

In the massive buildup to a six-hundred- 
ship navy, minesweepers— or mine counter- 
measures, as they're more properly 

called— remained stagnant, left to the 
Europeans for defense of NATO. The United 
States had nineteen aged wooden-hulled 
ships in two squadrons based in Charleston, 
South Carolina, and Seattle, Washington. 
Designated Aggressive-class ocean mine- 
sweepers or MSOs (minesweeper ocean), 
most of these belonged to the reserves, with 
fully one-third of their seventy-five-man 
crews weekend warriors. Their training for 
the last twenty years had consisted of sailing 
around one weekend a month and two weeks 
a year. The West Coast-based vessels 
avoided operating at night as the massive 
Douglas firs loggers left drifting in the water 
of Puget Sound would leave a large hole in 
the waterline of their small wooden-plank 

hulls. 43 

It had been thirty-six years since the navy 
last faced an enemy using naval mines on the 
open sea, when North Korea (with Soviet ad- 
visers) had embarrassingly thwarted a U.S. 

landing off Wonsan Harbor in 1951. M The 
fleet commander at the time, Rear Admiral 
Allan Smith, summed up his frustrations in a 
letter to the chief of naval operations that re- 
mained apropos four decades later: "We 
have lost control of the seas to a nation 
without a navy, using pre-World War I 
weapons, laid by vessels utilized at the time 

of the birth of Christ." 45 

Despite their pugnacious 

names— Conquest, Fearless, Inflict— they 
were awkward little vessels at the end of 
their useful lives. With a high octagonal su- 
perstructure, they looked more like large 
fishing lure as they bobbed like corks to and 
fro in the large swells of the open seas. About 
half the fleet still had engines manufactured 
by the defunct Packard Company, which 
made finding spare parts more of a challenge 
with each passing year. None had been out- 
fitted with new remotely operated 
vehicles— common in the European 

navies— that allowed them to examine a sus- 
pected mine from a safe distance. Instead, 
with the Americans, a diver had to physically 
swim up and examine every suspicious con- 
tact, a slow and potentially lethal undertak- 
ing. 4 ^ In an otherwise steel-hull fleet, to re- 
duce the magnetic signature that could set 
off advanced electromagnetic-influence 
mines, naval engineers had constructed the 
MSOs out of wood. Other than the two- 
hundred-year-old frigate USS Constitution, 
these were the last wooden ships in the 
American navy. 

But DeMasi's hunch proved correct. The 
idea of sending these small, aging man-of- 
wars to the far-off Persian Gulf came up just 
after the Bridgeton incident. On July 25, 
Crowe called the Pacific Fleet commander 
Ace Lyons: "We are looking at possibly send- 
ing some MSOs," Crowe told the admiral. Ly- 
ons had already anticipated this. "We are 
getting them ready now, but we need to lean 

on the Saudis and the French." When the 
Saudis proved unable and the Europeans un- 
willing, the news spread quickly that some of 

the MSOs were headed for war. 42 

The navy settled on sending six MSO 
minesweepers, with three coming from each 

coast. The main problem would be how to 
get them the nine thousand miles to the Gulf. 
The navy brass decided to tow them. A larger 
ship on each coast was detailed to pull them 
along by running a cable to each minesweep- 
er. This enhanced tow allowed the mine- 
sweepers to use just half of their engines, 
while still maintaining a respectable speed of 
thirty knots. Departing in the first week of 
September, like a mother duck with three 
ducklings following behind, they would make 
a six-week trip to the far side of the world, 
where the East and West Coast ships would 

finally meet up in Bahrain. 42 

A nineteenth-century adage refers to sea- 
farers as "wooden ships and iron men." The 
journey across the two oceans in cramped 
170-foot ships conjured up that saying in the 
minds of twentieth-century sailors. The old 
MSOs produced enough freshwater for just 
two daily twenty-minute sets. Showers be- 
came an assembly line. One man jumped in- 
to one of the three stalls, wetted down, and 
then stepped out to lather himself while the 
next man in the queue hopped in. Fresh food 
ran scarce, and the daily meal often con- 
sisted of Spam or canned ravioli. The ships 
rolled in such an unorthodox manner in the 
ocean swells that many sailors took to carry- 
ing "barf bags." Both flotillas had close calls. 
Across the Atlantic, the Illusive's rudder 
stuck hard left and crossed the towline of the 
Fearless, dragging them together before the 
line could be thrown off. In the Pacific, two 
MSOs collided while being towed, and one 

had to be sent back to Subic Bay for re- 
pairs. 52 

With every resource in the limited Americ- 
an minesweeping arsenal on its way to the 
Gulf, Bernsen remained optimistic that the 
conflict would not expand. Iran had not laid 
any more mines, and that appeared prom- 
ising. Bernsen suspected Iran would confine 
its mining campaign to the northern Gulf, 
where shipping would be destined only for 
Kuwait. "The fact that the central and south- 
ern Gulf have not been mined probably re- 
flects Iran's conscious unwillingness to ex- 
pose ships not in trade with Kuwait to this 
type of threat," he wrote in a message in 

early August. 51 

The Iranian leadership saw the situation 
quite differently. Khomeini's gamble with the 
"invisible hand" had worked. An emboldened 
Revolutionary Guard now clamored to lay 
more mines against the Great Satan. And un- 
like Bernsen's prediction, anywhere they saw 

an American ship would be fair game. While 
the United States rushed to send helicopters 
and ships to the Gulf, on August l the Irani- 
an ambassador in Tripoli met with Gaddafi. 
Their collaboration on naval mines had been 
a tremendous success, and now the Iranian 
government accepted an offer for even more 
military aid. 

"There is a strong likelihood of a direct 
confrontation with the U.S. because of the 
American president's intentions and our firm 
resolve to respond," Iran's ambassador in 
Tripoli told the Libyan leader. "We have put 
the first stage behind us with sea mining, 
and as you saw, the first oil tanker did strike 
a mine." 

Looking on from his headquarters in 
Honolulu, Ace Lyons fumed. Iran had delib- 
erately targeted the United States and mined 
international waters in a clear breach of in- 
ternational law. Yet Washington had done 
nothing in response to this naked aggression. 

Although Crist and CENTCOM ran the oper- 
ation, Lyons, as the Pacific Fleet command- 
er, still controlled all the ships outside the 
Gulf, including the aircraft carrier when its 
planes were not protecting Crist's convoys. 
And Ace Lyons had been working on his own 
secret plan to deal with the Iranians. His 
boss, Ron Hays, would never support it, but 
Lyons had the chairman's ear. All that was 
needed was a window of opportunity. 


A Window of Opportunity 

Ihe chairman would like you to call 

him," said Captain Kevin Healy to his boss, 
Admiral James "Ace" Lyons, during a short 
break between meetings. The executive of- 
ficer did not consider the request by Admiral 
William Crowe anything remarkable. Since 
the crisis had begun with the Bridgeton, 
Crowe spoke daily to his longtime acquaint- 
ance in Hawaii. The chairman wanted new 
ideas on how to respond to the Iranian 

Lyons served as a useful coadjutor to 
Crowe. Since Lyons worked for Crowe in the 
1970s, Crowe had tapped Lyons, looking for 
ideas on fighting the Soviets and for ways to 
get things done, frequently outside of the 

normal channels. "Ace Lyons had a great 
mind," Crowe said years later. "He loved 

imaginative and unorthodox solutions." 1 For 
Crowe, Lyons was a man who could get 
things done militarily in a way the more 
politically minded Crowe never could, all the 
while offering the chairman plausible deni- 
ability if things turned out ugly. 

Lyons picked up the phone as Healy went 
to his desk to listen in on another line. "Any 
ideas?" Crowe asked. "You've got access to 
me directly if you need to pass any 

Lyons always had a suggestion. "A window 
of opportunity is coming up later this 
month." There would be two carriers turning 
over outside the Gulf and the battleship Mis- 
souri would arrive in the Middle East. "We 
may well be in a position to exert a consider- 
able amount of power against the Iranians," 
Lyons told Crowe. "Keep it very, very quiet." 

The prospect of drubbing the Iranians ap- 
pealed to Crowe. He had been privately ad- 
vocating seizing Farsi Island with special op- 
erations forces, but Colin Powell as deputy 
national security adviser did not support 
such an aggressive move. But these were the 
type of ideas he liked from Lyons. "Okay," 
Crowe answered. "Work out a code word and 
you say whatever it is and you go." 

"Write me a letter," Crowe directed, asking 
for Lyons's thoughts about striking back at 

Ace Lyons already had an Iran war plan, 
appropriately called Operation Window of 
Opportunity. Beginning in late 1986, he'd de- 
signed a top secret plan outside of the nor- 
mal military channels. Without General 
Crist's knowledge at CENTCOM, Lyons craf- 
ted a U.S. Navy-only operation comprising 
two days of punishing attacks on Iranian 
military sites all along the Iranian 
coast— from Chah Bahar outside the Gulf 

working up to Bushehr. Convinced that Iran 
could not stand up to a sustained American 
attack and that military force might bring 
down the regime, Lyons planned to hit 
dozens of Iranian military units, including 
headquarters, airports, ports, and missile 
sites— all pummeled by the combined fire- 
power of two aircraft carriers and the World 
War II battlewagon USS Missouri, lobbing 
salvos of two-thousand-pound shells. But Ly- 
ons did not stop with destroying Iran's milit- 
ary. The second day of his grand design tar- 
geted Iran's economy by destroying its oil 
storage at Kharg Island, Iran's only gasoline 
refinery, and its major harbors. U.S. jets 
would destroy Iranian docks, and mines 
would be laid to close the large Iranian ports 
of Bushehr and Bandar Abbas. "Mining of 
Bandar Abbas and Bushehr and destruction 
of the port facilities essentially eliminates 
Iranian capacity to receive refined petroleum 
products and essential war materiel," Lyons 

noted. The admiral even intended to reduce 
the two partially completed light water react- 
ors at Bushehr to concrete rubble and twis- 
ted rebar. s 

Lyons had been pushing this idea for 
months. A month before the first convoy, in 
June 1987, Ace Lyons had briefed the secret- 
ary of defense on his idea. On June 18, Cas- 
par Weinberger and Richard Armitage 
stopped in Honolulu on a swing through 
Asia, and Lyons saw an opportunity to get 
his plan to take down the Khomeini regime 
in front of the Reagan administration. At 
three p.m., Weinberger paid an office call on 
Lyons. With the two men sitting around a 
table, and Armitage and Lyons's executive 
officer Kevin Healy in the background, the 
bulldog admiral pulled out his Iran plan and 
leaned forward in his chair. 

"Mr. Secretary, we have an opportunity," 
he began. On August 26, the carrier Ranger 
would be relieving the Constellation on 

station in the Gulf of Oman, giving a brief 
overlap when two of the battle groups would 
be available. Additionally, the Joint Chiefs 
had just decided to send the battleship Mis- 
souri and five more warships to the Gulf 
about the same time. Lyons then pulled out 
his fourteen-page Window of Opportunity 
plan. There had never been so much fire- 
power available near the Persian Gulf, he ad- 
ded. "We can cut 70 percent of their imports 
and exports. The objective of these strikes is 
to facilitate freedom of navigation and apply 
pressure to Iran to enter into serious negoti- 
ations to end the Iran-Iraq War." 

Weinberger listened politely but took no 
notes. Weinberger had no intention of bomb- 
ing Iran without a provocation or of getting 
the United States mired in a war and alienat- 
ing many Gulf allies. He viewed Lyons as an 
activist, and this performance was in perfect 
keeping with Ace's personality, trying to take 
advantage of his visit in order to get his 

agenda pushed to the top. Several times the 
defense secretary tried to get out of his chair, 
but Lyons kept gesticulating forward to keep 
him seated. After an hour, Weinberger left 
without comment. Armitage just shook his 
head. "It was typical bullshit from Ace. The 
secretary had no intention of starting a war 

with Iran." 3 

Undaunted, Lyons pitched his plan to any 
senior official who came to Hawaii. When 
Secretary of the Navy James Webb swung 
through, Lyons received a more positive re- 
sponse. Lyons did not think much of the 
thirtysomething secretary, but he offered to 
keep him informed of his other thoughts and 
views. Webb gave him the green light: "If you 
ever need to speak with me, call me directly." 
Lyons interpreted the message as a clear sign 
not to worry about the chain of command. 4 

Not that Ace Lyons had ever worried too 
much about the formalities of obtaining his 
boss's permission. His relationship was 

strained with his senior at Pacific Command, 
Admiral Ronald Hays, and naval operations 
chief Admiral Carl Trost had grown alarmed 
at some of Lyons's antics designed to intim- 
idate the Soviets, especially some provocat- 
ive mock air attacks directed at the Soviet 
forces at Petropavlovsk. He feared Lyons in- 
tended to start a war with the Soviets. "Ace 
had no concept of a chain of command if it 
did not fit his needs. He was making U.S. 
policy and setting the means to execute that 
policy without any guidance from those 
above. I think guys like that are dangerous," 

Trost said. 5 

Now, following Crowe's solicitation for 
ideas, Lyons composed a letter for Crowe. On 
August 11 he sent a six-page document typed 
on Lyons's four-star stationery, offering 
many suggestions for the chairman on how 
to run the Persian Gulf operation. "I have 
come to the conclusion," he began, "that no 
amount of ships and aircraft will deter Iran 

as long as its leaders believe we will not re- 
spond to isolated attacks." 

He advocated using his Window of Oppor- 
tunity plan. Lyons included an updated ver- 
sion that added the Missouri's 16-inch guns 
pulverizing the Silkworm sites ringing the 
Strait of Hormuz and marines from the 13th 
Marine Expeditionary Unit storming the 
beaches to seize the small but strategically 
placed island of Abu Musa. Lyons stressed 
for the chairman, "Our response needs to be 
vigorous and decisive. Half measures and 
gradualism will not do if we are to ever get 
their attention," he wrote in the opening 

paragraph of the plan.- Lyons suggested to 
Crowe that the best time for the strike would 
be August 29, when the battleship, two carri- 
ers, and a marine amphibious force would all 
be near the Gulf. "We will not have a similar 

opportunity for some time," he wrote. 2 

Since Lyons distrusted the security of nor- 
mal communications channels, he 

dispatched his lawyer, Captain Morris Sinor, 
to hand carry the letter plus the latest ver- 
sion of his Window of Opportunity plan back 
to Washington and drop it off in Crowe's of- 
fice at the Pentagon. Despite Lyons's general 
disdain for navy lawyers, he trusted Sinor, 
and his long-suffering lawyer had a reciproc- 
al respect for his boss: "Admiral Lyons could 
be rude, crude, and arrogant, but he was the 
most brilliant naval officer I ever met. 
Sinor dutifully complied, leaving the classi- 
fied package with Crowe's executive officer 
and fellow navy captain Joseph Strasser. 

Crowe called Lyons the next day after 
reading his letter. "That is a lot to ask of the 
U.S. government and the president," Crowe 

With the Iran-Contra congressional hear- 
ings in full vigor and the Reagan administra- 
tion being raked over the coals every night 
on the evening news, Lyons responded, "Bill, 
it's going to save the president." 2 The 

chairman kept the letter and Lyons's plan in 
his files, but never shared it with either Crist 
or Trost. 

Crowe and Lyons did, however, conspire 
on slipping the large amphibious ship USS 
Guadalcanal past the Iranian Silkworm mis- 
siles around the Strait of Hormuz and into 
the Gulf, where it would be used to support 
helicopters clearing Iranian mines. 

"Do you have any thoughts as to how she 
should go through?" Crowe inquired, then 
adding, "We don't want any messages." 

"I will work out the details and only you 
will know," an enthusiastic Lyons answered. 
"We can't tell anyone or it will leak." 

"Okay," said the chairman. That same day 
Lyons formulated a scheme to disguise the 
nineteen-thousand-ton ship as a freighter by 
rigging lights to mimic that of a commercial 
ship rather than a warship carrying navy and 
marine helicopters. 

Lyons worried about press leaks, believing 
many stemmed from inside the Pentagon, so 
he devised another ruse to fool the U.S. mil- 
itary. He issued a false message that the 
Guadalcanal had electrical problems and 
would be delayed four days before heading to 
the Persian Gulf. Lyons called the scheme 
Operation Slipper, and the only men privy to 
the fact that the message was false were 
Crowe and the Seventh Fleet commander, 
Vice Admiral Paul David Miller. Two days 
later, Lyons updated Crowe on Slipper. "It 
will transit the straits on the night of the 
fourteenth. It will look like a container ship 
going through," he told Crowe's assistant, a 
colorless toady, Vice Admiral Jonathan 
Howe. "Keep this information with the chair- 
man and yourself," Lyons added. "Don't let 
anyone else know— don't need a lot of ques- 
tions out of Tampa. "- 

Operation Slipper fooled the American 
generals and admirals. The Guadalcanal 

sailed under strict radio silence with its 
lights and camouflage netting configured to 
make it appear to be a large cargo ship. All 
the while CENTCOM, the Joint Staff, and 
Crowe's own operations deputy briefed both 
the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and Wein- 
berger every morning that the electrical 
problems were delaying the Guadalcanal's 
departure. The two four-stars in charge of 
the Middle East and the Indian Ocean re- 
mained oblivious too. Unaware of Crowe and 
Lyons's machinations, Crist and his counter- 
part at PACOM, Ron Hays, worked on their 
own protection scheme for the Guadalcanal. 
Crist suspected something was amiss when 
he learned that the Guadalcanal had left 
Diego Garcia, and he queried Crowe. The 
night before the Guadalcanal was due to 
transit the Strait of Hormuz, Crowe had his 
assistant call Lyons asking to let the 
CENTCOM commander in on the deception 

"Okay," Lyons answered. "He can tell Crist 
only. You know, no one at CINCPAC [i.e., 
Admiral Hays] knows. Make sure the chair- 
man understands." 

"Okay— he knows," Howe responded. 

The Guadalcanal passed through the 
Strait of Hormuz on the night of August 14 
without incident. As they normally did, the 
Iranian navy hailed the unidentified ship 
(the Guadalcanal's bridge watch refused to 
respond), but the Iranian military showed 
little interest in the oddly configured con- 
tainer ship. While there is no evidence that 
Iran ever considered attacking such a high- 
visibility ship, Lyons remained pleased. "We 
slipped it right past them!" 

The ramifications of the self-deceit rever- 
berated around the most senior levels of the 
Pentagon. Unwitting to the chairman's role, 
Crist viewed it as more of Ace Lyons's med- 
dling in his command. When Ron Hays 
learned of the Guadalcanal's unexpected 

arrival in Bahrain, the normally composed 
admiral was livid. He immediately called 

"Don't talk to me. Crowe was the one who 
ordered it," Lyons dismissively told Hays. 

Hays could not believe that Crowe would 
have gone behind his back; he called the 
chairman and complained about Lyons's 
"cutting him out." Crowe sympathized but 
never let on that he had directed Ace's mach- 
inations. 11 

As the Americans engaged in tomfoolery, 
the vitriolic warnings from Tehran increased. 
"They had better leave the region; otherwise 
we shall strike them so hard they will regret 
what they have done," said Iranian president 
Ali Khamenei. The United States took the 

rhetoric seriously.— The Central Intelligence 
Agency issued an intelligence alert warning 
that Iran would likely conduct more mine at- 
tacks to stop the Kuwaiti convoy operation. 

Sheik Abdul Fattah al-Bader, the chairman 
of the Kuwait Oil Tanker Company, pressed 
Bernsen to get the reflagged ship Gas Prince 
and its load of liquid petroleum gas to sail 
due to important contractual obligations. 
Bernsen cautioned against this move. While 
he did not share this with al-Bader, Americ- 
an intelligence had solid evidence of an Ira- 
nian spy inside al-Bader's company. This 
agent had tipped off the Revolutionary 
Guard to the Bridgeton convoy and would do 
the same again. Until they had some mine- 
sweeping capability, another convoy seemed 
too risky. 

Reluctantly, Bernsen bowed to al-Bader's 
needs and hastened a convoy out of 
Kuwait— the same day as Khamenei's threat. 
Two U.S. warships rendezvoused with the 
Gas Prince and escorted the ship south, hug- 
ging the Saudi coastline as they passed Farsi 
Island and with the Saudi military both 
sweeping ahead for mines and providing two 

F-15 fighters for cover. To throw off the Ira- 
nians, the navy liaison officer in Kuwait 
passed a false convoy route to the Kuwait Oil 
Tanker Company, with the convoy com- 
mander telling the master of the Gas Prince 
the real route only after they had set sail 
from Kuwait. To avoid Iranian mines, the 
convoy cut across the Iranian exclusion zone, 
with Iraq notified beforehand to avoid an- 
other attack like that on the Stark. 

The United States saw threats everywhere. 
An Iranian four-engine P-3 approached to 
within twenty-five miles before the USS 
Klakring, on picket duty in the central Gulf, 
locked on to the aircraft with its fire control 
radar, sending the P-3 heading off swiftly in 

the opposite direction. 13 An Iranian frigate 
shadowed the Americans. As the weather 
cleared, Iranian small boats appeared on the 
horizon and approached to within a few 
miles of the convoy, close enough to conduct 
suicide or surprise attacks, one admiral later 

wrote. Eight Iranian warships were under 
way— the bulk of Iran's operational fleet. 

U.S. fears seemed justified when the USS 
Kidd detected a Silkworm targeting radar, 
perhaps a precursor to launching one of its 
thousand-pound missiles. A U.S. electronics 
jet from the carrier Constellation immedi- 
ately jammed the Iranian radar. The phones 
lit up between Washington, Tampa, and 
Middle East Force as the United States 
braced for a possible Iranian attack. The car- 
rier strike group commander, a gruff, ag- 
gressive, decorated combat veteran aptly 
named Lyle Bull, ordered additional aircraft 
launched, ready for a strike against the Irani- 
an missile sites. As tense minutes passed, 
however, Iran launched no missiles and the 
radar emissions ended. The U.S. convoy 
steamed safely without incident into the 
open waters of the Indian Ocean. 

To Lyons and his simpatico strike group 
commander, Rear Admiral Bull, the Iranian 

actions demonstrated hostile intent and the 
United States should respond with force if 
they tried it again. Bernsen viewed it as far 
less menacing, more akin to Tehran tweak- 
ing the American nose. 14 

On August 4, the Iranian Revolutionary 
Guard began a weeklong exercise under the 
dour name "Martyrdom" in the Strait of Hor- 
muz. Tehran radio repeatedly warned ships 
and aircraft to "avoid approaching the area 
of the maneuvers," adding, "The Islamic Re- 
public of Iran will not be held responsible for 
the danger to these planes and ships that ap- 
proach, due to the use of missiles and shells." 

Even more alarming had been Iran's in- 
stigation of an uprising during the annual 
hajj. As punishment for Saudi Arabia's sup- 
port to the United States and Iraq, Ayatollah 
Khomeini ordered the Revolutionary Guard 
to start an uprising in Mecca during the July 
1987 hajj. Hundreds of guardsmen began 
quietly flying into Saudi Arabia disguised as 

pilgrims. They carried guns and knives 
stashed on board the Iran Air jets. The plan 
called for a massive, choreographed demon- 
stration against Saudi Arabia and the United 
States, designed both to embarrass the king 

and to create turmoil inside his kingdom. 15 

Reza Kahlili was still working as part of 
William Casey's spies run out of the CIA sta- 
tion in Frankfurt. One of Kahlili's friends 
came up to him excited at having been 
picked to participate in an operation of such 
importance. "Everything is in place and the 
Saudi monarch is going down," he told Kah- 
lili, adding, "These Arabs are the servants of 
America, and they will pay big this time." 
Writing on the back of his specially treated 
paper, Kahlili wrote a hidden message back 
to the CIA: "Thousands of Guards have been 
sent as pilgrims and flown by Iran Air. The 
plan is to incite the Muslims for a demon- 
stration condemning American and Israeli 
policies. They intend to escalate the 

demonstration to an uprising against the 

Saudi kingdom." 16 

The CIA tipped off Saudi authorities, who 
interdicted most of the guardsmen and their 
weapons. When the orchestrated uprising 
occurred on August l, the Saudi security 
forces were poised and ready. When the first 
Iranian pulled out a weapon, the Saudis 
opened fire with automatic weapons, cutting 
down 275 Iranians, both Revolutionary 
Guards and innocent pilgrims. That after- 
noon the ever bellicose Prince Bandar called 
Crowe: "They call us wimps yet we shot 
down their plane [the F-4 downed in 1984] 
and now killed about three hundred Irani- 
ans! The Iranian problem," Bandar added, 

"is going to get worse." 12 

Crowe and Crist conversed on the after- 
noon of August 7. A number of intelligence 
reports had raised concern about Iranian in- 
tentions. The Office of Naval Intelligence had 
just issued a dire threat alert predicting that 

within the next seven to ten days Iran would 
take "combat action against U.S. interests in 

the Persian Gulf."— Crowe emphasized to 
Crist the growing concern in Washington 
about neither starting a war nor repeating 
the Stark incident. It was a political 
tightrope, he said, which fell to individual 

ship commanders to straddle. 12 

Both Bandar and the intelligence predic- 
tions proved correct. Iran's real purpose be- 
hind the Martyrdom exercise soon showed 
itself. Amid all the publicity surrounding 
their swaggering exercise, the Iranian ship 
Charak, normally used for resupply opera- 
tions, sailed from Bandar Abbas, broke away 
from the exercise, and headed for the an- 
chorage at Khor Fakkan, the major port sup- 
porting all the shipping entering the Gulf 
and the assembly location for the Bridgeton 
convoy. On either August 8 or 9, the Charak 
laid a string of sixteen large M-08 mines in 

the middle of the tanker anchorage and then 
scurried back to Iran. 

This time Iran would not catch either 
Bernsen or American intelligence off guard. 
As Bernsen prepared to restart the convoys, 
his intelligence officer, Commander Ziegler, 
came in with an NSA intercept, a tantalizing 
snippet of a Revolutionary Guard conversa- 
tion that indicated that the next mining op- 
eration would be at "a place where things 
gather." Where this referred to, Ziegler ad- 
ded, remained unclear and had caused con- 
siderable consternation within the intelli- 
gence community. The DIA and the CIA be- 
lieved the Iranians intended to mine Kuwait 
Harbor. Bernsen sat down and pored over a 
chart with Ziegler and his operations boss, 
David Grieve. Everyone but Bernsen focused 
only on targets inside the Gulf, but Bernsen 
came to a different conclusion: "It could only 
mean the anchorage of Khor Fakkan. 22 

Bernsen immediately called Crist. "I think 
Khor Fakkan is their target, and I want to 
delay the next convoy for twenty-four hours 
and form it up well to the south of where we 

planned." 21 

Crist remained skeptical. His own J-2 in- 
telligence section agreed with the DIA and 
CIA. But the CENTCOM commander was not 
going to overrule Bernsen. "Hal, if you be- 
lieve it is best to alter the convoy's schedule, 

then do it." 22 

On August 10, Bernsen's actions were vin- 
dicated. The tanker Texaco Caribbean had 
just pulled into Khor Fakkan to anchor 
overnight before heading to Amsterdam with 
a load of Iranian crude. Suddenly, a powerful 
explosion rocked the tanker, as a mine 
ripped a four-meter hole in the ship, spilling 

some 2.5 million barrels of crude. 23 The 
irony of this was not lost on the Americans: 
the victim of Iran's mines had been a ship 

carrying its own oil. But the laughing 
stopped five days later when the mining 
turned deadly. The small UAE supply vessel 
Anita was making her rounds servicing 
anchored ships when she hit another mine. 
The 250-pound charge reduced the Anita to 
splinters, instantly killing six men, including 

the British master. 24 

That mining incident, off Fujairah, UAE, 
backfired on Iran. Instead of intimidating 
the West, this blatant mining of international 
waters galvanized European support for 
mine-clearing operations in the Gulf. Less 
than two weeks after rejecting an American 
request to send minesweepers, the United 
Kingdom, France, Belgium, and the Nether- 
lands all dispatched countermine vessels to 
the Persian Gulf. The UK sent four mine- 
sweepers plus support ships and began con- 
ducting its own escort operations for British- 
registered vessels. Belgium and the Nether- 
lands sent a combined force that included a 

support ship and two minesweepers, com- 
manded by a grizzled old commodore who 
had been in the Red Sea clearing Libyan 
mines. The following month, the Italians 
joined the U.S. effort by sending three frig- 
ates and three minesweepers to assist in 
keeping the Gulf open. France went even fur- 
ther, dispatching three minesweepers and 
one of its two carriers, the Clemenceau, to 

the Persian Gulf. 25 

While this transformed the mine clearing 
into a multinational effort, it did not trans- 
late into a coalition against Iran. While direct 
military-to-military cooperation was quite 
close with sharing of intelligence on Iran, the 
governments remained careful not to pub- 
licly ally themselves with the U.S. effort. 
There was no joint command, and the co- 
ordination of the mine-clearing effort was 
done on an ad hoc basis by weekly meetings 
in the Gulf between naval officers. Despite 
DOD and State Department efforts for a 

unified approach to countering Iranian 
mines, the other countries had their own 
specific economic interests in the region, 
which did not always coincide with Washing- 
ton's. The British and French arrived first in 
October. They quickly cleared fourteen 
mines off Fujairah and found two an- 
chors—all that remained of the mines that 
had hit the Anita and the Texaco Carib- 
bean. 2 ^ 

The French aircraft carrier did help the 
Americans. After the Khor Fakkan mining, 
the French minister of defense privately told 
Weinberger that his country would consider 
a joint air strike on Iran should the mining 
continue. Paris still wanted to settle the score 
from the Beirut bombings four years earlier. 
Crist dispatched Bernsen to talk to the 
French admiral when the Clemenceau 
stopped in Djibouti. The two nations agreed 
to joint training between their carriers, and 
the Americans shared some of their Invoke 

Resolve Iranian war plans with the French. 
Commander Ziegler came away convinced 
that in the event of a war, France would 

stand with Middle East Force. 22 

Rafsanjani became the public face for 
Iran's response to the mining of Fujairah. He 
blamed the United States for backing Iraq 
and creating the crisis. "Iran has announced 
time and again that its operations in the Per- 
sian Gulf are retaliatory. If those responsible 
for creating the insecurity were prevented 
from doing so, all problems would now have 
been solved."— In a revealing speech at Fri- 
day prayers at Tehran University on August 
21, Rafsanjani offered Iranian minesweepers 
to aid the international effort while casting 
the blame for the mining on the United 
States. "It is the situation in the United 
States that forces Americans to embark on 
adventurism in far corners of the world," he 
said. The Iranian laid the blame on the need 
to shore up the administration's popularity 

in the aftermath of the Iranian arms-sales 
scandal, which Rafsanjani called 
"McFarlane's disgrace." Rafsanjani failed to 
mention his own significant involvement in 
that incident, which he said revealed Amer- 
ica's "rotten nature." 

While laying the blame for the mines on 
Iraq or the United States, Rafsanjani 
bragged, "If we intended to plant mines, 
well, oh God, it is quite a different story... this 
is fully within our means. You can send 
twenty-seven or twenty-eight ships to the 
Gulf," he continued. "Each one of these ves- 
sels is a target for us. There used to be four 

targets, now there are twenty-seven." 29 

In response to the mining, the United 
States sent a tame demarche to Iran via the 
Swiss embassy. It reassured the Iranians of 
American neutrality while asserting the right 
to freedom of navigation and to protect U.S.- 
flagged vessels. The United States called on 
Iran to accept a cease-fire with Iraq and to 

refrain from laying additional mines as the 
"U.S. government would consider this an ex- 
tremely dangerous escalation and a direct 
military threat." Iran never responded to the 
U.S. letter and took it as more hollow 

words. 32 They had laid three strings of mines 
aimed squarely at the United States and the 
superpower had replied with a tepid 

Iran answered the demarche by laying 
more mines. Another Revolutionary Guard 
vessel operating from Farsi Island dropped a 
string of smaller Myam mines about twelve 
miles south of the Bridgeton field, where the 
convoy route took a turn to wind around the 
Iranian exclusion zone. The Iranian vessel 
set its stern on the light at the small Saudi is- 
land of Karan and simply headed back to- 
ward Farsi, dropping one off the stern every 
three hundred yards. The targets of these 
mines were not the convoys but the Americ- 
an minesweepers that would have to move 

through this stretch on their way north to 
clear the Bridgeton field. The Iranians set 
the mines for a much shallower depth. 31 

With Hunter and Striker ready and 
having dodged the Khor Fakkan mining, on 
August 8 the United States began its first 
major convoy since the Bridgeton attack. 
Tensions remained high in Washington as 
Crowe phoned Crist for hourly updates, and 
the CENTCOM commander spent the better 
part of three days in his own command cen- 
ter monitoring the convoy's progress, sleep- 
ing occasionally on a cot in his office. When 
the convoy entered the Strait of Hormuz and 
into the range of the Silkworm missiles, 
Crowe entered the maze of the National Mil- 
itary Command Center, taking a seat in a 
small conference room where a brigadier 
general sat twenty-four hours a day as the 
senior watch officer, just off a large open 

area where action officers tracked events 
from around the globe. Crowe monitored the 
ships' movement, poised to immediately 
contact either Weinberger or Carlucci in the 
White House Situation Room should the Ira- 
nians decide to attack the convoy. 32 

A 107-foot-long black SR-71 flew a sweep 
along the length of the Gulf photographing 
the Silkworm sites, then up north to photo- 
graph Iranian Revolutionary Guard boats at 
Farsi, Bushehr, and Kharg Island. To turn 
around, the high-flying jet flew over both 
Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, with Prince 
Bandar getting the king's permission to cut 
over the northeast section of the kingdom. 
As the SR-71 passed Bandar Abbas, the State 
Department sent out a flash message warn- 
ing the American embassies in Baghdad, 
Riyadh, and Kuwait of the flight. The aircraft 
cut across Iranian waters before heading 
west over Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, then 

turned with a loud sonic boom that rattled 

the Kuwait capital. 33 

Lyons looked to provoke a fight with Iran. 
He had Rear Admiral Lyle Bull on the carrier 
USS Constellation aggressively push his F-14 
fighters in toward Bandar Abbas. Several 
times they intentionally flew into Iranian air- 
space, either to intimidate Iran or to provoke 

the war Lyons wanted. 34 About two hours 
before the convoy entered the strait, a U.S. 
Navy P-3 prop aircraft took off from the air 
base on the Omani island of Masirah. With 
their exceptional electro-optical surveillance 
systems, CENTCOM viewed the P-3 flights as 
a key component in monitoring Iranian Silk- 
worm sites. As the plane headed around the 
strait just outside Iranian airspace and flew 
into the Gulf, what appeared to be an Iranian 
F-4 took off from Bandar Abbas and closed 
in on the tail of the P-3. Fearing the F-4 
would fire on the helpless P-3, two F-14S 
were vectored in to engage the Iranian jet. 

The two large swing-wing American fighters 
dove down onto the Iranian aircraft. The 
lead American fired off one air-to-air missile 
that promptly malfunctioned. So the F-14S 
launched another missile each, both of which 
sailed wide when the pilots hastily pulled the 
trigger without a proper fix on the Iranian 
boogie. The F-4 banked hard and headed 
back to the air base at Bandar Abbas. The 

U.S. aircraft decided not to pursue. 35 

Instead of inciting Iran, the air engage- 
ment brought the simmering Crist-Lyons 
feud to a full boil. The following day, after a 
closer examination of the Hawkeye's tapes 
and signals information collected by the 
NSA, Bernsen and Crist concluded the Irani- 
an aircraft was not an F-4, but a much larger 
and slower four-engine C-130 used by the 
Iranians for maritime surveillance. After go- 
ing over the evidence, both agreed that the 
Iranian aircraft had not been headed toward 
the P-3 and likely never even knew the U.S. 

plane was there. In a "personal for" message 
for senior military leaders, without mention- 
ing Lyons by name, Crist cautioned on the 
need "to guard against" starting an uninten- 
tional war with the Iranians. He viewed Ly- 
ons's actions as reckless and risking escala- 
tion of the low-grade conflict into a full-scale 

war that neither side wanted. 3 ^ 

When Crist called Lyle Bull asking for cla- 
rification on the incident, he was met with 
insolence. Bull's carrier had just left the des- 
ignated station to support Earnest Will and 
CENTCOM, so he technically fell back under 
PACOM and Lyons's control. The gruff rear 
admiral and supporter of Lyons cheerfully 
told the marine four-star general, "I don't 
have to answer your questions. I don't work 
for you now." 32 

General Crist turned bright red with anger. 
"Who does that son of a bitch think he is!" 
He called Crowe to complain, and the chair- 
man promised to look into it. Meanwhile, 

Crowe continued his sidebar dealings with 
Lyons. When news inevitably leaked out and 
CNN reported the incident two days later, 
Lyons suggested to Crowe, "Tell them we 
fired a warning shot at the Iranians." Crowe 

liked the idea and reported it as such. 3 ^ 

General Crist had had enough of Lyons, 
Bull, and the navy. Few senior officers had 
his joint expertise, and he even kept a copy 
of the Goldwater-Nichols legislation in his 
top desk drawer as a reference. The act had 
been designed to fix just this sort of service 
parochialism. It gave him the legal authority 
to run military operations in his area, and if 
Crowe would not enforce the law, he would 
bring the issue to a culmination. 

As the operation expanded to include a 
battleship, an aircraft carrier, and nearly 
thirty warships, and the prospect grew of a 
military action against Iran, Earnest Will 
surpassed the realm of a single one-star ad- 
miral in Bahrain to control. On August 10, 

Crowe met privately with Trost in his office 
to discuss command and control for the Per- 
sian Gulf. The chairman did not invite Crist, 
even though it directly impacted his forces. 
The chief of naval operations agreed to get 
back quickly with a recommendation for 
Crowe, which he did the next day. Drafted by 
his operations officer, Vice Admiral Hank 
Mustin, it largely concurred with Lyons's 
views and recommended giving the mission 
to an existing navy command. 

General Crist challenged the process with 
his own recommendation. He proposed 
forming a new headquarters: a joint task 
force to command all the military forces in- 
volved in Earnest Will. The aircraft carrier or 
battleship outside the Gulf, as well as air 
force AWACS planes in Saudi Arabia and 
Bernsen's Middle East Force, would all be- 
long to this one commander, who in turn 
would report back only to General Crist in 
Tampa. "The entire command structure was 

based upon nod of the head and handshake 
deals," Crist said in an interview in 1988. "It 
violated everything I knew about unity of 
command." If Iran decided to escalate, Crist 
added, there needed to be a way to coordin- 
ate the individual services. "What I wanted 
was to create one command for the whole 
force and integrate all our resources under 
one commander served by a staff composed 
of members from all services." There would 
not be another incident where a carrier com- 
mander supporting the convoys would say he 
did not work for the CENTCOM command- 
er. 32 

While technically Crist had the authority 
to establish this command himself, the idea 
would be too contentious to implement uni- 
laterally. He ran the idea past Armitage to 
make sure he had Weinberger's support, and 
on August 13, the day Crowe told Crist about 
Lyons's deception with the Guadalcanal, the 
CENTCOM commander sent a formal 

message proposing the task force idea to 
Crowe. Based upon the provisions of the 
newly enacted Goldwater-Nichols Act, the 
joint task force would control all forces tak- 
ing part in Earnest Will regardless of service 
and location inside or outside the Gulf. Crist 
proposed a navy admiral as the commander, 
since the navy had the preponderance of the 
forces assigned, but his deputy would be an 
air force brigadier general, as that service's 
planes would be crucial for any larger attacks 

against Iran. 42 While forming this type of 
command is routine today— in fact the norm 
for military operations— in 1987 it challenged 
conventions, and the thought of an air force 
general riding around on a navy ship seemed 

The next day Weinberger and the Joint 
Chiefs met in the Tank to discuss Crist's pro- 
posal. With Weinberger already behind the 
idea, the chiefs and Crowe swiftly agreed to 
Crist's recommendation. 41 Their only input 

was to downgrade the rank of the command- 
er from three stars to two. 

But Lyons still held out hope that Crowe 
would give him the go-ahead to conduct his 
Window of Opportunity plan. On August 17, 
he flew out to the Constellation. Lyons car- 
ried the latest version of his Iran war plan to 
personally pass to Lyle Bull. When the Con- 
stellation and Ranger turned over on August 
28, the former would steam southeast into 
the Indian Ocean as if headed back to her 
home port in the Pacific. A few days later, on 
September 3, the Missouri would arrive, at 
which time Lyons would secretly order Bull's 
carrier battle group back to the north Arabi- 
an Sea. Lyons's forces would be in place for a 
major military action, with Iran being none 
the wiser. No doubt it was a clever means to 
clandestinely build forces under the noses of 
the Iranian military, but in doing so, Lyons 
never consulted either of the two unified 
commanders sanctioned by law to make such 

decisions— Hays and Crist. The chairman of 
the Joint Chiefs had encouraged Lyons, but 
he'd kept that to himself and never informed 
the defense secretary, who had more than 
passing interest in whether the United States 
attacked another country. 

That evening, Lyons met with Bull and a 
cocksure redhead named Anthony Less, the 
incoming Ranger battle group commander. 
They were joined by Rear Admiral Dennis 
Brooks, who had been selected as the new 
joint task force commander, a man Lyons 

held in disdain. 42 Brooks had just returned 
from Bahrain and his first meeting with 
Bernsen and Crist, and Lyons ordered him to 
back-brief him on what Crist had said to 
Brooks. Everything Denny said irritated Ly- 
ons. Crist had given Brooks specific instruc- 
tions that he would work only for Crist and 
was not to have any contact with Lyons. 
Brooks opined that he might get a third star 
out of the assignment and suggested he 

needed a staff of 120 people. "You are lucky 
to have one star," Lyons thought as he heard 
Brooks talk about cutting him out of the 

But what really set off Lyons was a passing 
reference by Brooks to the Window of Op- 
portunity plan. Lyons immediately halted the 
discussion and threw both Bull and Less out 
of the stateroom to chew out Brooks in 
private for divulging his top secret plan. 

Less had no idea what Brooks was talking 
about, so he met privately with one of Ly- 
ons's aides, whom he'd known for many 

"What is this all about?" Less asked when 
they were alone in a darkened passageway. 

"It is extremely sensitive, but Admiral Ly- 
ons is preparing to attack Iran using your 
carrier, the Connie, and the Missouri once 
she arrives." 

"Holy shit," a stunned Less answered, real- 
izing the magnitude of what Lyons had 

Ace Lyons's fertile mind had still other 
ideas for Iran. While on board the Connie, he 
called the commander of the Pacific submar- 
ine force, Rear Admiral James Reynolds. 
"Look at getting the best guy in WesPac 
[Western Pacific] and load him out with the 
best combination of torpedoes and mines. 
The idea," Lyons continued, "is to send a sub 
into the Gulf to seed key Iranian areas, to 
have them think it's their own mines, and if 
possible torpedo a few of their ships. Take a 
look at the channels around Larak Island. 
Don't discuss this with anybody," Lyons 
sternly cautioned. "It will have to be covert." 

Two days later Reynolds called back to Ly- 
ons. "The Los Angeles attack sub USS 
Honolulu is due in Subic Bay on the nine- 
teenth and could be loaded out with mines 
and on station by August thirtieth." Reynolds 

cautioned about the mining scheme, worried 
that the Gulf was too shallow for the sub 

Lyons knew he would have to get Crowe's 
authority to do this, but the timing for the 
sub's arrival would be perfect as an added 
weapon for Window of Opportunity. 

Satisfied that all was progressing, Lyons 
flew back to Hawaii. He stopped in Guam for 
the night— long enough to phone Trost to 
voice his concerns about Brooks. "This cabal 
between Hays and Crist is essentially cutting 
me from the pattern," Lyons complained, be- 
fore lambasting the decision to select Brooks. 
"I can't tell you how disappointed I was to 
put Brooks into this job. We need to watch 
this very carefully. We don't want the navy 
and this country embarrassed," he told the 
naval operations chief. 

Trost did not disagree with everything Ly- 
ons said. He too thought it was unwise to cut 
out the expertise of the Pacific Fleet. But he 

found it strange to refer to two theater com- 
manders doing their job as a cabal. He also 
held a higher opinion of Brooks. 

Lyons continued to wait for the word from 
Crowe. As time ticked down, he began to 
think that once again the United States did 
not have the balls to deal with Iran. On 
August 27, he called Crowe, who was at Fort 
Leavenworth attending a meeting of the 
theater commanders. Lyons spoke to Captain 
Strasser, Crowe's executive officer. Lyons in- 
quired, "Do I need to talk to the chairman 
about the Window of Opportunity plan?" 

Although Crowe had encouraged Lyons's 
plan, he'd never told Lyons it was going to 
happen. Instead, Strasser spoke for the 
chairman: "Absent another provocation, no 
one here has the stomach for that." 

With Crowe's unwillingness to press for at- 
tacking Iran, the window of opportunity en- 
visioned by Lyons closed. The carriers ro- 
tated out and Lyle Bull headed back to the 

West Coast. "We blew a golden opportunity 
to clobber the Iranians while the threat was 
manageable, perhaps even bring down the 
regime," Lyons lamented years later. 

But Ace Lyons's anomalistic behavior had 
finally reached the breaking point with his 
boss, Ron Hays. Ace had repeatedly kept 
Hays in the dark about his actions and 
plans— the Guadalcanal, using a sub to sink 
Iranian ships, or pushing to execute the Win- 
dow of Opportunity plan— frustrating the 
genial admiral in Honolulu. 

Hays wrote a letter to Weinberger: it was 
either Ace or him, and if Lyons did not go, 
then Hays would retire. The letter arrived in 
Armitage's box; he quickly pulled it and 
called Hays. "You better not send that letter 
in," Armitage said. "First, we don't want this 
all over the building, and second, if the sec- 
retary does not agree to fire Ace, then you 
have to retire." 

The two men agreed to shred Hays's letter 
and quietly approach Weinberger in private. 
Armitage arranged a phone call between the 
two men. After explaining all of Lyons's 
maneuverings, Weinberger agreed with 
Hays. Lyons needed to be fired, and the sec- 
retary wanted him retired as a two-star, not 
as a customary four-star rank. 

After talking with Webb, Weinberger 
called Trost, who was on vacation at his 
home in Virginia Beach. "I want Lyons to re- 
tire immediately, and he can go as a two- 
star." Trost agreed— he had no love for Ly- 
ons—but he suggested they offer to retire 
him as a four-star if Lyons would go quietly. 

Trost also knew of another hammer to use 
against Ace. A chief petty officer on Lyons's 
plane had lodged a complaint on the waste 
and fraud hotline. While Ace was out on the 
Constellation, he had allowed his marine 
fleet force commander, Lieutenant General 
Dwayne Gray, to use his aircraft to fly back 

to the mainland for a speech. Lyons had in- 
cluded a piece of furniture for his daughter 
in Norfolk to be loaded onto the plane. The 
plan was for his daughter to pick it up where 
the plane landed with Gray, but Gray, trying 
to help out his boss, asked the pilot if he had 
a reason to go on to Norfolk. When the pilot 
said, "Sure," Gray sent the plane along and 
the pilot dropped the furniture off with Ly- 
ons's daughter— all without Lyons's know- 
ledge. The complaint alleged Lyons had mis- 
used government aircraft. 

i\t eight forty on the morning of 
September 4, Lyons was sitting at his large 
desk in Hawaii, the same one used by Admir- 
al Nimitz during the Second World War. 
Trost called and requested a clear line. Ly- 
ons's executive officer, Kevin Healy, dutifully 
hung up his phone. 

"I don't know anything about this," Trost 
dishonestly began, "but I've been told to tell 
you that you have violated the chain of com- 
mand and they want your retirement by 
October first. We need your answer by to- 
morrow." There would be no further 

A few hours later, Lyons finally got ahold 
of Crowe. "Bill, what the hell is all this crap?" 
Crowe, who had just spoken to Ron Hays, re- 
sponded, "Hays thinks you went around him. 
I never told you not to keep your superiors 
informed. Besides, you're in trouble with the 
secretary of the navy for misuse of your 

"What the fuck are you talking about? I've 
never misused my airplane." 

"You sent an aircraft on to Norfolk on per- 
sonal business," Crowe responded. 

"I don't even know what you are talking 
about," Lyons answered incredulously. "And 

you told me not to send any messages or tell 
anyone about what we were doing." 

"I never said not to keep the chain of com- 
mand informed," the chairman said disin- 
genuously. "But you still have got a lot of 
friends back here in Washington." 

Lyons was stunned. He could not believe 
that Crowe had knifed him in the back by not 
defending him in Washington. "Well, from 
where I sit, that is pretty hard to see. How 
come I was not given my day in court to 
come back and defend myself?" 

"We thought it was best to handle it this 
way. But when this all blows over, I want you 
to come and see me and we can talk, because 
there are a lot of things we can do," Crowe 
added, as if this were a minor change of as- 
signments. Crowe could not afford to have 
Lyons come forward and expose his private 
dealings with the chairman, especially since 
Crowe had deliberately avoided the chain of 
command that Lyons now stood accused of 

circumventing. Crowe remained silent. For 
political expediency, Lyons would take the 
fall. The chairman never mentioned any of 
his private conversations with Lyons to 
either Weinberger or Trost. Ace Lyons never 
spoke to Crowe again. 

Lyons agreed to submit his retirement pa- 
pers. But he refused to expose Crowe's dupli- 
city. When asked why, Lyons answered, "I 
spent forty years serving in the navy. I was 

not going to be a part of tearing it down." 43 

On October l, Lyons thanked his staff in a 
brief retirement ceremony on the deck of the 
cruiser Antietam. "The old surface warrior is 
gone.. .that's all I can say now," Lyons said 
shortly before leaving. 44 

Amazingly, Crowe had the chutzpah to 
send Lyons a flattering personal message 
that praised his skill and creativity: "I greatly 
value your friendship and the wise counsel 
you have provided me during our frequent 

association. You leave a void that will be dif- 
ficult to fill. Warmest regards, Bill." 45 

"Fuck you," Lyons muttered when he read 

Lyons retired to his home in McLean, Vir- 
ginia, but his troubles only grew. The long 
knives were out for the maverick admiral, 
with Trost leading the way. Agents from the 
Naval Criminal Investigative Service houn- 
ded Lyons. For the next year, they staked out 
his house, watching who came and went, and 
launched a series of investigations. While 
agents tried to get other officers to swear 
that Lyons had used his government plane to 
fly his dogs around to exclusive dog shows, 
others confiscated classified papers he'd sent 
back to the Naval Historical Center's 
archives in Washington. He and his wife col- 
lected antiques, and rumors spread that Ly- 
ons had used his aircraft to ferry them for his 
wife's business. Although his wife never sold 
antiques, investigators spent hours digging 

into that unsupported accusation. Lyons was 
then accused of spiriting away from Pacific 
Command highly classified papers that 
should not have left the command safes. 
Trost wanted to press charges, but he could 
not get the navy secretary to agree. "What 
they confiscated," Lyons said later, "were pa- 
pers that were embarrassing to them— that's 
what they wanted." The vice chief of naval 
operations, Huntington Hardisty, offered 
quarters during his transition. Lyons re- 
fused, but asked for his two stewards to re- 
main to help him with his move. No one 
could recall this, and Lyons had to reimburse 
the government for the cost of the airfare for 
the two enlisted men. "It was purely vindict- 
ive," Lyons's lawyer, Morris Sinor, said. After 
more than a year, the new secretary of the 
navy, William Ball, finally ordered the har- 
assment to cease. 

While Lyons was out of the way, 
CENTCOM's troubles with the navy 

remained. News articles appeared in the San 
Diego Union, a paper with a strong source 
within the navy hierarchy, that the mining of 
the Bridgeton had resulted from a lack of 
proper naval planning at the Tampa 
headquarters. Anonymous admirals warned 
that "more mistakes could cost American 

Not only had Crist finally cut out Lyons 
and the Pacific Fleet, but navy brass was 
aghast at his plan for dealing with the Irani- 
ans. Rather than view the conflict as a tradi- 
tional naval fight, Crist approached it as an 
insurgency, a guerrilla war at sea. His ap- 
proach was more akin to Vietnam or Iraq 
after 2007. It would be a low-tech fight 
where small boats and helicopters had more 
impact than multibillion-dollar cruisers. 

Crowe publicly supported Crist. "These 
criticisms [of Crist] are just plain wrong," he 
said during a trip to California. But behind 

the walls of the Pentagon, a duplicitous 
chairman had the long knives after Crist too. 


The Night Stalkers 

While the military brass feuded, the 
onus for defeating Iran bore down squarely 
on the shoulders of Hal Bernsen and his tiny 
thirteen-man staff on board their aging 
white-painted command ship. Staying up 
late into the evening talking with a few key 
officers, Bernsen rethought his plan. Clearly 
the Iranian leadership had not been awed by 
the power of the U.S. Navy and had risked 

war by targeting the first U.S. convoy. 1 With 
the horse out of the barn, military intelli- 
gence analysts now fed him a steady stream 
of possible future Iranian Revolutionary 

Guard attacks. 2 

One of Bernsen's principal discussants was 
his controversial intelligence officer, Com- 
mander Howell Conway Ziegler. One retired 
officer described him as "a mad genius— true 
on both accounts," while others called him a 
"whirling dervish." His mind worked fast and 
ginned up unorthodox solutions to equally 
unusual problems. A common refrain said 
about him by many of those interviewed was: 
"He would come up with ten solutions to a 
problem; nine would be bullshit, but that 
tenth would be brilliant." Ziegler's role in 
Middle East Force went beyond his intelli- 
gence duties. Shortly after the Bridgeton 
mining, Bernsen dispatched him to Djibouti 
to negotiate with the French about increas- 
ing their support for the escort operation. 
Ziegler inserted himself into operational de- 
cisions, perturbing many who believed he 
was in over his head and earning him the un- 
flattering nickname "Conway Twitty." 3 But it 
would be his analysis that unraveled the 

Revolutionary Guard operations. More im- 
portant, Bernsen and his operations staff re- 
spected and trusted him, convinced that his 
out-of-the-box thinking was what was re- 
quired to address the Iranian threat. 

"So what is the threat, then?" Bernsen 
asked Ziegler reflectively one evening. The 
"threat is essentially an unconventional one." 
The Iranians were unlike any adversary the 
U.S. Navy had fought. They posed a low-tech 
threat of mines and hit-and-run attacks with 
speedboats outfitted with recoilless rifles and 
inaccurate but lethal rocket launchers. They 
operated more akin to the Vietcong than to 
the Japanese. Their Silkworm missiles did 
pose a risk, but Iran was not likely to cross 
that line, he surmised, knowing full well that 
it would mean a massive U.S. retaliation that 

would destroy Iran's navy and air force. 4 
"They already had their hands full with 
Iraq," Bernsen remarked. 

Over the next couple of days Bernsen, Zie- 
gler, and his operations officer brainstormed 
how to deal with the Iranian threat in late 
night staff meetings on board the La Salle 
and in lengthy phone calls with General Ge- 
orge Crist, who was eight hours behind at 
CENTCOM in Tampa. Bernsen developed a 
robust surveillance regime to watch the Ira- 
nians. It seemed unrealistic to have a pres- 
ence over the entire five-hundred-mile 
length of the Gulf, so he targeted the shallow 
choke points near Farsi or Abu Musa that 
presented the best locations to lay mines tar- 
geted against the American convoys, based 
largely on a picture of the Iranian operations 
being painted by Ziegler. He divided the five- 
hundred-mile Persian Gulf into roughly eight 
patrol zones in which U.S. warships would be 

more or less permanently stationed. 5 In the 
unlikely event the few Iranian aircraft de- 
cided to venture out, one cruiser was sta- 
tioned in the middle and one outside the 

Gulf linked to the air force AWACS in Saudi 
Arabia. But defeating the Iranian mines or 
hit-and-run attacks would not be done by 
large warships or bombers. In Bernsen's 
mind, helicopters and some sort of smaller 
patrol boats would be needed to control the 

vast space of the Persian Gulf.- 

The northern part of the Gulf near Farsi 
Island presented the greatest obstacle. Here, 
the shallow water forced shipping into a nar- 
row corridor of deep water that passed too 
close for comfort to the Iranian stronghold of 
Farsi Island; the Revolutionary Guard dom- 
inated the hundred-mile stretch from Kuwait 
to the island. The Iranian air force did not 
pose a serious risk, contenting itself with 
fending off its Iraqi counterpart and protect- 
ing Iranian oil tankers. Iranian mines or 
spillover from the Iran-Iraq War raging just 
to the north made CENTCOM very reluctant 
to risk sending two hundred sailors and a 
billion-dollar ship into an area that many in 

Tampa and out in the Gulf began referring to 

as "Indian Country." 2 But unless the United 
States maintained some sort of permanent 
presence to prevent the Iranians from min- 
ing at their leisure, Earnest Will would be 
short-lived. Bernsen had to find a way to 
check the Comanches. 

Ziegler passed Bernsen a report that pro- 
foundly affected the admiral's thinking. A 
quick analysis of the damage to the Brid- 
geton by American naval engineers and the 
Office of Naval Intelligence indicated that 
the mine had been set to float about twenty 
feet below the surface of the water. While 
this reinforced the threat to a U.S. Navy war- 
ship (a frigate draws some twenty-six feet), it 
did not preclude using a smaller draft vessel 
such as a patrol boat. "Those boats," Bernsen 
surmised, "could maneuver with fair confid- 
ence throughout the area, without the danger 
of striking a submerged, tethered mine." 

Bernsen had no idea what kind of patrol 
boats the U.S. military possessed, so he and 
his operations officer, Captain David Grieve, 
simply opened the ship's copy of Jane's 
Fighting Ships to see what types of patrol 
boats the navy had in its inventory. As they 
flipped through the pages, the options avail- 
able looked slim; only three boats appeared 
to have any applicability. One was the small 
thirty-two-foot fiberglass patrol boat riverine 
(PBR), designed originally for the rivers of 
Vietnam. Its recent claim to fame had been 
serving as the centerpiece in the movie Apo- 
calypse Now. Relegated to the reserves, with 
a crew of five, the PBR was air transportable, 
but wholly incapable of operating in any- 
thing but the calmest of seas. Also in the in- 
ventory was the small, sleek Naval Special 
Warfare boat called Seafox. Made of radar- 
absorbent material, it might be useful for 
clandestine operations against the Iranians. 
Slightly more promising was the sixty-five- 

foot fiberglass Mark III patrol boat. Built in 
the early 1970s based on Vietnam require- 
ments and experiences, it had a range of 450 
miles and could achieve speeds of up to 
thirty knots. It included an enclosed cockpit 
and cabin to shelter its ten-man crew from 
the weather. The Mark III had never been 
designed to operate in the open seas, and 
lacked such creature comforts as showers, 
but it did pack a punch with a 40-mm can- 
non forward and a 20-mm machine gun aft, 
not counting heavy machine guns and auto- 
matic grenade launchers. These just might 
work, Bernsen thought. 

All this led to the next logical question: 
"Where do you base them?" Small boats are 
not self-sufficient; they require a base for re- 
fueling, crew rest, and shelter in the event of 
foul weather. The Persian Gulf infamously 
kicks up some surprisingly large waves. 
Kuwait or Saudi Arabia might be willing to 
allow a small U.S. base, but both lay too far 

from the shipping channel to adequately 
support a round-the-clock operation. "What 
we needed," Bernsen thought, "was some 
kind of sea-based platform from which the 
small boats, helicopters, or whatever else we 

wanted could operate."- 

As Bernsen mulled over the barge idea, he 
called the head of the Kuwait Oil Tanker 
Company, Fattah al-Bader. Talking around 
the issue over the open phone line, he asked 
al-Bader if he had some ships that could ac- 
commodate a helicopter. The Kuwaiti men- 
tioned that Bernsen could use two self-pro- 
pelled barges owned by the Kuwaiti coast 
guard, which resembled ferry boats without 
any passenger areas and were topped with a 
large flight deck for helicopters. As neither 
was being used and, more important for the 
bottom line-minded Kuwaitis, both had 
already been paid for, Kuwait was more than 
happy to let the Americans use them. 
Bernsen flew up to Kuwait and toured the 

two vessels. Unfortunately, they could ac- 
commodate only about forty people and per- 
haps one or two helicopters— not nearly large 
enough. "What I need is something that we 
can move, holds two hundred people, can 
support helicopters, and we could tie boats 

"Well," al-Bader answered, "you go find it 

and we'll pay for it." 9 

Over the past several years Bernsen had 
become friendly with an American business- 
man from Houston who owned a company 
based out of Sarjah, UAE, that leased oil ser- 
vice boats. With a quick mind and a slow 
Southern drawl, he knew the Gulf as few oth- 
er Americans did.— 

Bernsen decided to call him. "This is a 
nonconversation, but I'm looking for some 
boats that I can put some helicopters on that 
can hold about two hundred people." 

The man from Houston called back in a 
couple of hours. "I've spoken to a friend of 
mine at Brown and Root." This was the Hal- 
liburton subsidiary that maintained extens- 
ive dealings throughout the Persian Gulf, in- 
cluding with the Iranians, supporting the oil 
industry. "They have two oil construction 
barges that are not being used sitting right 
there in Bahrain. One of them is named the 
Hercules. There is a Brown and Root office 
about a mile from where your ship is tied up. 
Why don't you go over and talk to him; I've 
already made the arrangements with Brown 
and Root's Middle East representative." 

Bernsen hopped in his car and drove to the 
Brown and Root office and met with the 
company's senior representative, a British 
national named John Rahtz. He confirmed 
that there were two barges owned by Brown 
and Root tied up right in Bahrain that might 
fit the American need: Hercules and Wim- 
brown VII. After showing Bernsen the 

blueprints, they went down to the small 
shipyard where the two barges sat moored. 

At first glance both appeared in terrible 
shape. Their exteriors were covered by rust 
and peeling paint, and the decks were piled 
high with rusting equipment and cables. 
"They look like crap," Bernsen said to Rahtz. 
But when the two went on board and took a 
tour, it became apparent that both barges 
were in sound shape, Hercules a bit more so. 
Hercules was the larger of the two. One of 
the largest oil barges in the world at 400 by 
140 feet, flat and wide, it had been designed 
for the construction of offshore oil platforms 
and laying underwater pipelines. On one end 
sat a large, white, elevated helicopter landing 
pad complete with a small control tower. At 
the other end, sitting atop a large cylindrical 
pedestal, sat a rectangular mount, painted 
red and orange, that connected to a massive 
crane 50 feet plus tall. Emblazoned at the 
back end of the crane in large black letters on 

a fading yellow background was the word 
"Clyde." Its 250-foot-long boom towered 
above the entire barge, giving Hercules an 
unmistakably lopsided appearance. In 
between was a large, flat open space perfect 
for helicopters and storing small patrol 
boats. Below the main deck, Hercules had 
berthing for 160 men, in addition to a large 
galley, cafeteria, even a theater or recreation 
room adorned with blue curtains. For poten- 
tial operations in the mine-strewn area near 
Farsi, it had the added advantage of being 
double hulled, surrounded by a floodable 
tank that would provide excellent protection 
against a mine strike. 

The Wimbrown was smaller, only 250 feet 
long with a beam of 70 feet. Designed as a 
jack-up barge, it was equipped with remov- 
able extendable legs, whereby the entire 
barge could be lifted up by air jacks to 
provide a stable work platform. It had a 
small helicopter platform on one end, 

adjacent to a large, elevated modular office 
building aloft of the main deck.— It did not 
have a built-in crane like Clyde, substituting 
a much smaller tracked commercial variant. 
It had extensive berthing facilities, capable of 
housing nearly one hundred more than Her- 
cules. Each had a relatively shallow draft that 
would make them less susceptible to a mine 
strike. Each barge was anchored by a four- 
point mooring system and could be moved 
only by tugs, a procedure that required two 
hours to get under way and moved the 

barges at a ponderous four knots per hour.— 
With some cleaning, scrapping, and a new 
coat of paint, these two just might work, 
Bernsen said. 

Bernsen shot out a flash message to Gen- 
eral Crist laying out his thoughts: 

In my view, to be successful in the 
northern Gulf we must establish an 

intensive patrol operation to prevent the 
Iranians from laying mines, sweep those 
few mines that may be placed in the wa- 
ter despite our patrol efforts, and third, 
protect the reflagged tankers from Irani- 
an small boat attack while transiting the 
northern Gulf. I believe we can achieve 
the desired results with a mix of relat- 
ively small patrol craft, boats, and helos. 

Rather than using regular naval vessels, 
the area could be better patrolled by a mix- 
ture of attack helicopters and small boats 
augmented by Navy SEALs and U.S. Mar- 
ines. 13 

General Crist liked the idea. "What the Ira- 
nians were doing reminded me of Vietnam. 
They planted mines and roadside bombs all 
along our key roads and line of supply. It 
seemed to me they were doing the same 
thing, only on the water," Crist said in a 1988 

interview. The CENTCOM commander 
coined an expression for the unusual fight in 
which the Americans now found themselves 
involved: "a guerrilla war at sea." He forwar- 
ded Bernsen's plan to both Chairman Crowe 
and Admiral Ronald Hays in a message for 
their eyes only. 

Crowe also immediately grasped Bernsen's 
sea base scheme. His tour in the Mekong 
Delta during Vietnam had acquainted him 
with a similar idea called Sea Float, in which 
the navy had constructed a floating base by 
connecting numerous pontoon barges to- 
gether south of the Mekong Delta. It served 
as a forward support base for riverine patrol 
boats in an attempt to undermine the Viet- 
cong guerrillas moving along the Cua Lon 
River. The chairman immediately threw his 
support behind it. After a meeting between 
Crowe and Caspar Weinberger on July 31, 
the secretary of defense approved the de- 
ployment of all the patrol boats requested by 

Bernsen, including eight Mark III patrol 
boats, with four coming from Special Boat 
Squadron 2 in Norfolk, Virginia, and the oth- 
er four from Special Boat Squadron 1 at 

Coronado, California. 14 

Bernsen assigned two new officers to turn 
it into reality. On August 11 Commander 
Richard Flanagan arrived from California. A 
SEAL, he commanded Special Boat Squad- 
ron 1, which comprised all the U.S. patrol 

boats on the West Coast. 15 Flanagan had cut 
his teeth as a junior officer in the waterways 

of the Mekong Delta and knew Sea Float.— 
The day after Flanagan's arrival, Captain 
Frank Lugo arrived in Bahrain. Commis- 
sioned in 1953, Lugo had an impressive 
resume of both operational and command 
billets. A competent, experienced staff of- 
ficer, he'd recently served as the operations 
officer for Second Fleet and was slated to 
start training in preparation for assuming 
command of a new cruiser on the West 

Coast. Lugo's name came up for considera- 
tion as he was in between assignments and 
was well respected by the navy hierarchy, in- 
cluding Chief of Naval Operations Trost and 
his operations deputy, Vice Admiral Hank 
Mustin. 12 

Secrecy about the barges remained para- 
mount. Crist intended to limit those within 
the military who even knew of the idea to a 
handful, and had sent the message outlining 
his concept via a special communications 
channel under the code name Privy Seal. To 
prevent Iranian mine laying and small-boat 
attacks upon U.S. shipping along a hundred- 
mile route from the Mina al-Ahmadi channel 
off Kuwait to an area south of Farsi Island, 
CENTCOM proposed deploying two barges, 
or mobile sea bases as they were officially 
designated, in the water astride the convoy 
route, with each covering a fifty-mile 

stretch.— Each mobile sea base would serve 
as a home base for four sixty-five-foot patrol 

boats and army special operations heli- 
copters. If the Iranians tried to attack the 
barges directly, each would be protected by a 
force of SEALs and marines armed with 
automatic grenade launchers, heavy machine 
guns, antitank missiles, and Stinger antiair- 
craft missiles. In all, each mobile sea base 
would have a complement of about 140 
men. 12 

Meanwhile, Iran increased the pressure on 
Kuwait. It launched three Silkworm missiles 
at Kuwait's key oil terminal at Mina al-Ah- 
madi. While all landed harmlessly to the 
south near some beachside villas at Mina Ab- 
dullah, it was a stark reminder to Kuwait 
about antagonizing its northern neighbor. In 
response, Kuwait expelled five Iranian diplo- 
mats suspected of being covert agents.— 

aul Evancoe looked like a poster boy 

for the elite Navy SEALs. A natural leader, 
tall, fit, with dark hair and a matching mus- 
tache, he had a reputation as an aggress- 
ive—some thought reckless— officer. He'd 
served as an enlisted man in Vietnam, rose 
through the ranks, and was now commander 
of Special Boat Unit 20 in Norfolk. During 
the reception party after taking over his new 
command, the flash message arrived giving 
him just forty-eight hours to load his four 
boats and sixty-seven officers and men onto 
the amphibious ship USS Raleigh and head 
for the Persian Gulf. While Evancoe re- 
mained for a couple of weeks in Norfolk to 
scrounge more spare parts and get two smal- 
ler Seafox boats flown to Bahrain, his execut- 
ive officer, Lieutenant Peter Wikul, took 
charge of the boats heading over on the 
Raleigh. Wikul shared many of the personal- 
ity traits of his boss; while short and solid, he 
was aggressive and hyper. He had been 

burned badly while serving as an observer in 
Lebanon when he rushed into a tent to save a 
man when a propane heater exploded.— 

Wikul and the boats arrived in the Gulf at 
the end of August, and a week later he con- 
ducted his first patrol north of Farsi Island 
prior to the next Earnest Will convoy. It 
turned out to be an arduous 530-mile, five- 
day mission. While a frigate to the south 
provided his men showers and hot meals, the 
constant pounding in the small fiberglass 
boats left the men and boats bruised and 

The Pentagon struggled to meet Bernsen's 
requirements for helicopters. The navy 
primarily used its helicopters for antisub- 
marine missions and did not want to turn 
them into gunships. The marines had attack 
helicopters already on the Guadalcanal, but 
their pilots lacked the skills to fly at night, 
when the Iranians conducted most of their 

Crowe had been briefed on an elite army 
aviation unit named Task Force 160 
(TF-160), the "Night Stalkers," located at the 
sprawling army base at Fort Campbell, Ken- 
tucky, home to the 101st Airborne Division. 
The Night Stalkers had been formed in Octo- 
ber 1981, following the disastrous Iranian 
hostage rescue effort; their sole mission was 
to provide helicopter support to special oper- 
ations forces. 23 They operated a variety of 
specially configured helicopters, one of 
which was a modified McDonnell Douglas 
530 helicopter, popularly referred to within 
TF-160 as "Little Bird." Crewed by two, it 
had a speed of 120 knots and a range of one 
hundred miles; these small, jelly 
bean-shaped helicopters were highly man- 
euverable, easily deployable, and exception- 
ally quiet. The 530's specially configured 
blades produced a subdued whir sound 
rather than the loud thump, thump of most 
helicopters. As one SEAL observed, "At night 

you could just about see the aircraft's outline 
before ever hearing its rotors turning." These 
craft were designed to operate exclusively at 
night; their pilots had hundreds of hours of 
flying time using night-vision goggles. 24 The 
helos came in two variants: an attack version 
outfitted with a 7.62-mm minigun on one 
side and a 2.75-inch rocket pod with explos- 
ive and dartlike flechette rounds on the oth- 
er. At three thousand rounds a minute, the 
minigun cut through a target more like a 
chain saw than a machine gun. The heli- 
copters operated in threes, with one com- 
mand and control version, which came with 
a forward-looking infrared radar (FLIR) and 

videotape system, and two attack birds. 25 

A future four-star general and commander 
of all U.S. Special Operations Forces, Major 
Bryan "Doug" Brown flew to Tampa to brief 
Crist on his unit's abilities. At thirty-eight, 
Brown had already spent twenty years in the 
army, having enlisted as a private in 1967 

and soon thereafter earning the coveted 
green beret of the Army Special Forces. He 
subsequently obtained his commission be- 
fore going off to flight school and Vietnam, 
where he earned a Distinguished Flying 
Cross. He already had a deserved reputation 
as a smart, competent officer who was going 
places in the army. 

General Crist was not overly enamored 
with special operations forces, a view com- 
monly shared by many infantry officers who 
had fought in Vietnam. They viewed the 
Green Berets— as well as the SEALs— as ag- 
gressive to the point of reckless, "snake eat- 
ers" who needed to be carefully watched. 
Brown arrived on a typically oppressive hot 
Tampa summer day and found the marine 
commander combative. Crist commented 
that he was not sure that his unit's heli- 
copters had enough firepower or missiles to 
contend with the Iranian small boats. "He 
did not think we could actually do the 

mission," Brown recalled. But the army avi- 
ator stood his ground. "Sir, there are some 
people who can fire rockets and some who 

can't, and we are the guys who can!"— 

Privately, Crist was pleased with the brief- 
ing and jotted down a list of the Night Stalk- 
ers' abilities in his black notebook. Behind 
the scenes, the CENTCOM chief of staff, Ma- 
jor General Don Penzler, who had knowledge 
of TF-160 from an army assignment, liked 
the idea of using the army. He worked with 
both the army staff in Washington and his 
own in Tampa pushing the unit's deployment 
and did much to get over the lower-level op- 
position within the military to this unortho- 
dox marriage between the army and the 
navy. 22 

On August 4, a single C-5 transport air- 
craft lumbered into the sky from Fort Camp- 
bell. Its secret cargo comprised six Little 
Birds, plus thirty-nine men and five pallets 
of equipment. They arrived at the Bahraini 

airport in the pitch darkness of the early 
morning hours of August 5 and immediately 
taxied for the small U.S. Navy hangar located 
at the airport. The Bahrainis reluctantly 
agreed to allow the helicopters to transit 
through, provided they were gone by day- 
light and the pallets with ammunition and 
weapons were ambiguously packaged and 
marked so as to obscure their contents.— 

Brown and the others were greeted by an 
air force major dressed in an Arab robe and 
headdress— a sheik outfit or latter-day 
Lawrence of Arabia is how one remembered 
it— in a weak attempt at a disguise. The plan 
to cover their movement, he explained, 
would be to follow a Bahraini helicopter out 
of the airfield. "We'll call the tower and you 
just keep your lights out and follow us out. 
We'll go ten miles out and turn around, and 
you head to the La Salle." In an hour the 
army crew had all six helicopters assembled. 

They took off, following close to the Bahraini 
helo, and landed on board the La Salle. 

The next day they met with Bernsen and 
his operations staff. The capabilities of 
TF-160 were a closely guarded secret within 
the U.S. military, and neither Bernsen nor 
his staff had any real idea of what these heli- 
copters could do. They initially proposed us- 
ing them to fly in daylight in front of the con- 
voys looking for mines. Brown respectfully 
dissented. "Sir, we'll do whatever you want 
us to do, but that is a waste of a tremendous 
asset. We're night fighters!" They had been 
brought over by CENTCOM with the intent 
of using them to hunt suspected Iranian 
small boats or minelayers, not to fly in the 
daytime looking for mines in front of the 
convoy— any standard helicopter could do 
that. Bernsen quickly grasped the idea, and 
in two days he had one detachment em- 
barked on the USS Jarrett for the next Earn- 
est Will convoy. 

1 o support Bernsen, CENTCOM's senior 
intelligence officer, Brigadier General Cloyd 
Pfister, asked for more intelligence out in the 
Gulf. After discussions with National Secur- 
ity Adviser Frank Carlucci and President 
Reagan, on September 9 Weinberger ap- 
proved a covert national intelligence effort as 
part of a closely held operation to support 
Earnest Will, under the unusually named 
banner of Operation Pollen Count. It in- 
volved sending specially configured National 
Security Agency intelligence teams to the 

Gulf. 22 Traveling with some small commu- 
nications vans, they were mobile enough to 
be positioned far forward, in fact on indi- 
vidual navy destroyers and frigates patrolling 
the Gulf. Their purpose was twofold: one, to 
provide much better capability to eavesdrop 
on Iranian military communications; and 
two, to tap into the vast array of U.S. signals 

intelligence. 32 This allowed national intelli- 
gence to be piped directly down to the tactic- 
al forces who could use it most and, conceiv- 
ably, allow them to respond quickly to any 
time-sensitive intelligence gleaned back at 
NSA's home in Fort Meade, Maryland. Wear- 
ing nondescript green and blue overalls, they 
joined a growing array of similar "black" 
units, from the five-man marine radio recon- 
naissance detachment to the army's elite unit 
under U.S. Special Operations Command 
(SOCOM), the Intelligence Support Activ- 
ity. 31 As one intelligence analyst later said, 
"It was a host of 'spooky' cats and dogs wan- 
dering around the Gulf, all in sanitized uni- 
forms." 32 

While Middle East Force implemented its 
new surveillance regime, CENTCOM looked 
to refine a new set of covert plans to deal 
with the Iranians. Shortly after the Brid- 
geton mining, the Joint Chiefs of Staff direc- 
ted a review of the Invoke Resolve plans. As 

part of this, CENTCOM started looking to 
develop alternatives designed to "take the 
Iranian eyes out," as Crist described it. Spe- 
cifically, his concept was to capture key Ira- 
nian islands in the Gulf such as Farsi, Abu 
Musa, Sirri, or the Tunbs. The last three of 
these were still contested by the UAE, having 
been occupied and de facto incorporated into 
Iran by the shah. After feeling out the Gulf 
Cooperation Council states, Crist concluded 
that taking them would cause little outrage 
on the Arab side of the Gulf and would not 
cause the same dramatic escalation in the 
minds of Tehran as a more direct attack on 
the Iranian mainland, such as Bandar Abbas 
or Qeshm Island. Seizing these Iranian out- 
posts in the Persian Gulf would eliminate 
their key operating bases and would effect- 
ively drive their navy and Revolutionary 
Guards from the Gulf, push them back into 
their ports, and eliminate Iran's ability to 

project any military power into the Gulf 
proper that could threaten tanker traffic. 

This was an important consideration, es- 
pecially in the minds of the White House and 
the secretary of defense. Both Weinberger 
and Richard Armitage supported Crist's 
strategy. Weinberger had no intention of get- 
ting the United States involved in a major 
war with Iran or of committing the United 
States to an incursion onto the Iranian main- 
land. With the Soviet Union still a threat in 
Europe and the Far East, the United States 
simply lacked the forces to commit to the ex- 
pansive landmass of Iran to achieve anything 
decisive or conclusive. Echoing these senti- 
ments, Richard Armitage knew that, however 
unpopular the Khomeini regime might be, 
the Iranians were a proud, nationalistic 
people, and he feared that such an overt at- 
tack would likely rally the populace behind 
the mullahs and actually strengthen support 
for the regime. Equally important in 

Armitage's mind was that any serious escala- 
tion in the conflict would likely result in 
Tehran's unleashing its terrorist surrogates 
on the West. Foremost was Hezbollah, which 
would likely step up the attacks on Israel 
from south Lebanon. Further, the Iranians 
had a sophisticated terrorist network in 
Europe, and the CIA concluded they would 
likely try to use it if the United States at- 
tacked Iran proper. The key, therefore, in 
Weinberger's and Armitage's minds, was to 
walk a delicate balance by waging a limited 
war against Iran to achieve the U.S. object- 
ives of freedom of navigation and protection 
of the Kuwaiti tankers and by applying 
enough pressure to contain Iranian ambi- 
tions in the Gulf without escalating the 

In addition to these overt plans against 
Iran, CENTCOM asked for assistance in de- 
veloping clandestine options should Presid- 
ent Reagan decide to strike back with 

Washington's own "invisible hand" against 
the Iranians. The work of developing the 
"black" plans fell to the newly established 
Special Operations Command, located only a 
few hundred yards from CENTCOM's 
headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base. As 
the head of a new command looking for a 
mission, the SOCOM commander, General 
James Lindsay, actively supported the devel- 
opment of various plans against Iran. He 
ordered a special compartmented planning 
cell to support General Crist, which included 
a legendary special forces officer, Colonel 
Wayne Long. Working closely with another 
similar special planning cell within the 
CENTCOM J-3, headed by army artillery of- 
ficer Colonel James "Gunner" Laws, they de- 
veloped a number of options, and in late July 
and August these moved from conference 
room discussions to written concept plans. 

One of the more popular ideas was to take 
out the suspected mine-laying vessels in the 

harbors of Bushehr and Bandar Abbas. U.S. 
intelligence had narrowed down the possible 
ships to a relatively few supply or small am- 
phibious ships, refined more with satellite or 
signals intelligence. The concept envisioned 
a small team of frogmen dropped off by a 
U.S. ship or submarine in international wa- 
ters. Using a SEAL delivery vehicle— a small, 
fast, open-water submersible— they would 
stealthily move into an Iranian harbor travel- 
ing just under the surface, leaving no wake 
or visible trace of their presence. Then they 
would navigate to the targeted ships and 
plant timed explosives on the bottoms of 
their hulls. Once the SEALs were safely 
away, the charges would ignite, sending the 
minelayers to the bottom of the Gulf. With 
no evidence that the United States was to 
blame, there would be plausible deniability 
for Washington. A high-risk venture to be 
sure, it was relegated in the opinions of the 
president and his senior military advisers to 

an option of last resort. As one senior officer 
described, "It certainly would give Tehran a 
taste of their own medicine." 

Other plans concocted by this cell were far 
less surreptitious. They looked at using 
SEALs to conduct a series of hit-and-run 
raids on the Iranian Silkworm sites as well as 
on the Iranian islands, the latter backed by 
extensive naval gunfire and U.S. aircraft. 
SEAL planners in the Gulf and back in 
Tampa were less than enthusiastic about 
these options. Both were very risky, and the 
islands were so small and heavily defended 
that it was difficult to merely conduct a raid 
without just taking the whole island. This re- 
quired a greater ground force than that pos- 
sessed by Naval Special Warfare and neces- 
sitated bringing in a more robust force of 
combat marines. To deal with Silkworm sites 
on Qeshm Island, they devised a plan to in- 
sert up to two Ranger battalions by U.S. Air 
Force MH-53 helicopters launched from 

Masirah Island, Oman, to physically destroy 
the sites in a short-duration, high-intensity, 
direct action operation. "It never got to the 
rehearsal stage," Wayne Long later said, "but 
we had worked up all the plans in case it 

needed to be done." 33 

Some of the more curious schemes devised 
by Long tried to exploit perceived divisions 
within Iran to provide cover for American 
covert operations. One involved using Irani- 
an exiles, with American special operations 
forces' assistance, to infiltrate Iran and blow 
up some of the Silkworm missile sites 
around the Strait of Hormuz. Another hoped 
to take advantage of the growing tension de- 
tected by U.S. intelligence between the fanat- 
ical Revolutionary Guard and the regular, 
U.S. -trained Iranian navy and air force. The 
two were not in a happy marriage; distrust 
between the two prevailed. One comprised 
enthusiastic, untrained ideologues, while the 
other was more professional and slightly 

more reticent. They maintained separate 
chains of command, with the Revolutionary 
Guard being virtually independent, often not 
even reporting back to Tehran about its op- 
erations activities. On several occasions the 
differences between the two forces escalated 
to exchanges of gunfire. Colonel Long hoped 
to take advantage of this discord, providing 
U.S. deniability while exacerbating the ten- 
sions between the regular military and the 
Revolutionary Guard. He had an American 
Huey helicopter— a common fixture in the 
Iranian military— repainted in a brown and 
tan color scheme and including the Iranian 
national insignia, a green, white, and red cir- 
cular emblem painted on the tail boom. 
Piloted by a TF-160 native Farsi-speaking 
warrant officer, this bogus Iranian helicopter 
would approach one of the oil platforms 
commonly used by the Revolutionary Guard 
for its attacks on Gulf shipping, such as Sirri 
or Rostam. After hailing the platform's 

occupants to lull them into mistakenly be- 
lieving it was a friendly helicopter, it would 
approach close before opening fire with a 
barrage of machine-gun and rocket fire. With 
luck, this would knock the platform out of 
commission, with the blame falling on dis- 
gruntled units in the Iranian military. To 
Long's irritation, President Reagan never ap- 
proved the operation. 34 

-tLverything seemed to be going exceed- 
ingly well," Bernsen said in an oral history 
interview, "[until] the whole operation al- 
most came to a grinding halt" 35 when 
CENTCOM's formal plan for the mobile sea 
bases hit the Joint Staff and the four services 
ignited a bureaucratic hullabaloo. The entire 
navy leadership and its obsequious support- 
er, U.S. Marine Corps commandant General 
Alfred Gray, clamored to kill the concept. 

Secretary of the Navy James Webb refused to 
pay for anything related to the program. The 
opponents argued that the mobile sea base 
was not really mobile and lacked any protec- 
tion against aircraft or inbound missiles. The 
mobile sea bases, therefore, were little more 
than an enticement dangled before Iran, 
with three hundred Americans laid helpless 
before an Iranian missile and air onslaught. 
Critics objected to a SEAL commanding it 
and could not envision how this polyglot of 
marines, sailors, and special forces could be 
integrated into a cohesive unit. In an age 
when service parochialism reigned supreme, 
few wearing the uniform could accept this 
level of joint interoperability by the armed 
forces. 3 ^ 

Over the next week memos, messages, and 
secure phone calls poured into CENTCOM 
and the chairman's office from every senior 
navy command, all opposing the idea. "This 
needlessly risks the lives of American 

servicemen," wrote one admiral. The Atlantic 
commander, Admiral Lee Baggett, Jr., 
thought the idea crazy and told both Crowe 
and Crist so during an annual meeting of the 
four-star commanders at Fort Leavenworth: 
"This is a floating Beirut Barracks!" 

One of the most scathing messages origin- 
ated from Major General Royal Moore, Jr., a 
dark-haired, square-jawed marine and 
brash, cocky fighter pilot. As Admiral Ronald 
Hays's operations officer at Pacific Com- 
mand, upon hearing of the sea base idea, he 
picked up the phone and called his counter- 
part at CENTCOM, Major General Samuel 
Swart of the air force, strongly objecting to 
this "half-baked, seat of the pants" idea that 
was "going to get people killed." 32 

The hostility to the sea bases only com- 
pounded Crist's problems inside the 
Pentagon. Crowe had the CENTCOM com- 
mander come to Washington to defend the 
size of the joint task force before the Joint 

Chiefs in the Tank. For two hours the chiefs 
picked apart his planned headquarters, the 
onslaught led by Trost and Al Gray. The 
ninety-six men Crist wanted seemed way too 
many, so without much analysis as to what 
each man would do, the chiefs summarily 
pared it down by about half, to fifty-two. In 
the process, they picked apart Crist's joint 
headquarters and the entire surveillance 
plan. They flatly rejected many of Crist's 
ideas, such as a subordinate special opera- 
tions task force to run all the special opera- 
tions and the mobile sea bases. Gray ques- 
tioned having an air force deputy. "If the ad- 
miral gets killed, you're going to have an air 
force guy running navy ships," he said dis- 
dainfully. "If we have to worry about the ad- 
miral getting killed," Crist thought, shaking 
his head, "we've got bigger problems than 
one easy-to-replace admiral." 

Having helped instigate the bloodletting, 
Crowe finally ended it. "We need to support 

George and make sure he's got what he 
needs." The chairman backed the scaled- 
down joint headquarters and the new 
scheme to combat the Iranian maritime 

Senior naval officers now pushed to fire 
Crist. Who orchestrated it remains unclear, 
but the vice chief of naval operations, Admir- 
al Huntington Hardisty, and Ace Lyons both 

had their fingerprints on the effort. The 
crazy idea of these mobile sea bases was the 
last straw in a series of decisions made by 
Crist that undermined the navy's operational 
independence and they viewed as lacking 
sound military judgment. Bowing to their 
pressure, Crowe raised the issue with Wein- 
berger on two separate occasions. "We may 
need to replace Crist," Crowe said in an af- 
ternoon meeting with the defense secretary. 
"He has lost the confidence of the navy." And 
just two days before he presided over Ace Ly- 
ons's demise, Crowe recommended replacing 

Crist with Tom Morgan, the deputy marine 
commandant. Weinberger's response is not 
recorded, but his close confidant, Rich 
Armitage, recalled, "The navy behaved very 
badly throughout the entire operation. It was 
more likely that the navy had lost the secret- 
ary's confidence." Crist stayed, and Crowe 

never again raised the subject. 32 

Unaware of Crowe's discussions about re- 
placing him, Crist caved to the pressure and 
convened a three-day mobile sea base con- 
ference at his headquarters at MacDill Air 
Force Base. On the morning of September 9, 
the assembled officers gathered in the main 
auditorium on the second floor of the main 
headquarters building, just down the hall 
from Crist's office. Senior officers and rep- 
resentatives came from all over the Depart- 
ments of the Navy and Defense, most wear- 
ing navy blue and intending to kill the 

scheme. 42 Lugo explained the overall 
concept: "Two barges will be positioned 

along a hundred-mile stretch in the northern 
Gulf to cover this strategic choke point. Each 
mobile sea base would be responsible for 
maintaining control over a fifty-mile 'alley' 
along the convoy route, or SLOC." This 
offered a no-cost alternative to risking sever- 
al navy combatants. The combination of heli- 
copters, small boats, and defensive fire on 
the barges themselves was more than cap- 
able of dealing with any Iranian threat. They 
intended to move the mobile sea bases ran- 
domly every few days among the Saudi is- 
lands and oil platforms that dotted the 
northern Gulf to reduce the likelihood of Ira- 
nians being able to target the sea bases. 41 

The officers listened skeptically but attent- 
ively, occasionally asking questions. When 
queried about Iranians possibly trying to 
board the barges, Lugo responded that those 
assigned would carry 9-mm pistols, M-i6s, 
various machine guns, and hand grenades, 
and they would be able to "repel boarders." 

This led to the under-the-breath sarcastic 
comment by one flag officer: "Are you going 

to issue them cutlasses too?" 42 

The conference did little to change the 
opinions of those opposed to it, which re- 
mained the majority of the attendees. 43 The 
day after the conference, Royal Moore sent a 
personal message to Crist's senior planning 
officer, Rear Admiral William Fogarty: "Bill, 
as you know, I developed serious misgivings 
over the mobile sea base concept. As a result 
of what I saw and heard, it is my assessment 
that the concept is so severely flawed that it 

should be dropped. "^Admiral Crowe had 
endorsed the mobile sea bases since their 
conception, but even his own operations dir- 
ectorate within the Joint Staff recommended 
against the venture. 45 

While Crist had the legal authority to im- 
plement the mobile sea base plan and he in- 
tended to drive forward with deploying the 

barges, with the entire naval services rising 
in opposition, the issue found itself elevated 
to Weinberger's desk. The opposition to the 
barges threatened to kill the mobile sea 
bases, and even Rich Armitage, a staunch 
supporter of both Crist and the barge idea, 
worried that the opposition might be too 
much to overcome. 

On September 17, Crowe arrived in 
Bahrain. He spent the next two days touring 
several U.S. ships and getting a ride on a 
Mark III patrol boat. He went on board the 
barge Hercules and talked to SEALs about 
their planned operations and the scheme en- 
visioned for the barges' defense. After this 
and several lengthy meetings with Bernsen, 
he sent a message back to Crist and Wein- 
berger that effectively put an end at least to 
the overt bashing by the navy of the mobile 
sea bases. After praising Hal Bernsen, Crowe 
went on to say about the barges, "I am aware 
that there are many naysayers as far as the 

barges are concerned, but I came away from 
my tour feeling more comfortable with them 
than I had previously been." The barges were 
a "good-sense" alternative and should go for- 
ward. 4 ^ Weinberger agreed. 

ieutenant Abdul Fouladvand had an 
easy command. Commissioned just after the 
shah's departure in 1979, the thin twenty- 
eight-year-old with thick dark hair com- 
manded a 176-foot-long logistics ship named 
the Rakhsh before the revolution, now called 
the Iran Ajr. Painted hazy gray, Foulad- 
vand's ship had a bow ramp and a large open 
deck for loading bulk cargo. At her stern rose 
the superstructure housing the bridge and 
quarters for a crew of around twenty. The 
war had passed by his tiny ship. For the past 
few years, he had contented himself with 
short runs from Bandar Abbas to resupply 
the Iranian military on Abu Musa Island and 

the oil platforms. But the hardships of the 
war had led Fouladvand to hoard supplies. 
He filled his cabin with foodstuffs, including 
Iranian-produced aspirin that turned out to 
be a placebo. Neither hygiene nor mainten- 
ance had been high on the young captain's 
priorities. The Japanese had built the Iran 
Ajr in the same year as Fouladvand's com- 
missioning, but it already displayed severe 
rust and peeling paint. It had never been 
cleaned: grease and dirt permeated every 
compartment and cabin. The one head on 
board no longer worked, but this had not 
stopped the crew from continuing to relieve 
themselves there. Human feces overflowed 
the toilet, and crewmen had tracked the rem- 
nants all around the deck. 

Bandar Abbas was a relatively small town 
of only twelve thousand people in the 
mid-1980s. It was Iran's principal southern 
port and the region's leading commercial 
center. Within the large concrete 

breakwaters sat two distinct areas: a com- 
mercial area and a naval section in a port 
shaped something like an L, with the Iranian 
naval base occupying the short horizontal ax- 
is. In August 1987, Fouladvand received or- 
ders to dock over at the commercial side of 
the Bandar Abbas port, and the Iran Ajr tied 
up to one of the T-shaped piers, intermingled 
with commercial ships. A large warehouse 
sat next to the wharf. Inside, the Revolution- 
ary Guard stored dozens of large, black, cyl- 
indrical mines, staged for quick loading on 
board the minelayer. The mines remained 
there for more than a month, until an Irani- 
an agent in Bahrain tipped off the Revolu- 
tionary Guard to the ship's schedule and 
Tehran made the quick decision to try to 
mine this target of opportunity. 

In mid-September, two Revolutionary 
Guard officers with an accompanying small 
team arrived and took over Fouladvand's 
ship. Commander Parvis Farshchian led this 

special group. A sixteen-year veteran, Farsh- 
chian was fluent in English and a staunch 
Islamic ideologue. His deputy was the cool 
and collected forty-two-year-old Farhad 
Ibrahimi. A twenty-year veteran of the Irani- 
an marines, he had joined the Revolutionary 
Guard, where he put his special forces train- 
ing to work leading a number of commando 
attacks against the Iraqis. An impressive 
man who spoke flawless English, Ibrahimi 
liked to flaunt his wealth and authority by 
wearing a very expensive Rolex diving 

watch. 42 Farshchian ordered eighteen mines 
pulled out from the warehouse and quickly 
loaded onto the ship's open deck, interming- 
ling them with oil drums and covering them 
with a heavy tarp to try to conceal his illicit 
cargo. The crew welded a metal gangplank to 
the deck, dangling out over the ship's star- 
board side. The Iranians had decided to 
launch another mining attack. Emboldened 
by their earlier successes, this time they 

would target Bernsen directly. Farshchian 
intended to mine the main channel into 
Bahrain and the American naval base. By 
happenstance, the La Salle intended to con- 
duct a gunnery exercise in the exact area 
Farshchian planned to lay his eighteen 


The Iran Ajr's crew did not welcome the 
new arrivals. The Revolutionary Guard dis- 
played a haughty attitude toward their less 
dedicated comrades. They ate and slept sep- 
arately and rarely mingled. In truth, some of 
the regular navy sailors hated the Islamic 
Republic. One enlisted man confided that he 
would gladly have defected had he not been 
the sole provider for his aging mother. 

The Iran Ajr quietly departed Bandar Ab- 
bas on September 20. The 1st Naval District 
gave Farshchian strict instructions to report 
his position every hour. He dutifully did, 
signing off each message as "commander of 

special mission unit Iran A/r." 49 As a cover 

story, Farshchian disguised his operation as 
a routine transit to the northern port of 
Bushehr. For a covert operation, the Iranians 
took this too far. At least eight Iranian sol- 
diers hopped on board the ship looking for a 
quick trip to visit family and friends around 
Bushehr. After stopping overnight at the 
Rostam oil platform for final approval or- 
ders, the Iran Ajr continued north. On the 
evening of September 21, the ship diverted 
off her route, heading west toward Bahrain. 

American intelligence nearly missed the 
Iran Ajr. Spy satellites actually photo- 
graphed mines sitting on the dock next to 
her and a sister ship on August 16, 1987, but 
this image somehow got lost and never made 
it out to Bernsen in the Gulf. Three days be- 
fore she'd left Bandar Abbas, an intelligence 
advisory stated: "Do not estimate Iran will 
deploy mines during next week." The first 
Ziegler knew of this impending attack was 
after the Iran Ajr had set sail; a string of 

intercepts started flowing into his small, se- 
cure facility on the La Salle, all from a ship 
calling itself a special mission unit and re- 
porting back in flash messages to its 
headquarters every hour. Ziegler began 
tracking her movements, and when the ship 
stopped at the Revolutionary 

Guard-manned oil platform of Rostam and 
one communique mentioned an operation 
for eleven p.m. the next night, he went in to 
tell Bernsen. The Middle East Force com- 
mander ordered the USS Jarrett to investig- 
ate. The American frigate had three of the 

army Little Birds embarked. 52 

At ten p.m., the three small jelly 
bean-shaped helos took off from the fantail 
into a moonless night. Within forty minutes 
they had closed to within two hundred yards 
of the Iranian ship, carefully remaining up- 
wind in order to minimize the chances of be- 
ing heard. As the American pilots looked on, 
just before the magic hour of eleven o'clock, 

Farshchian ordered the ship's navigation 
lights turned off. Ibrahimi had six Iranians 
pull back the heavy tarp covering the mines 
and oil drums. He began methodically fusing 
the black spherical objects arranged on top 
of the flat open deck. With a stopwatch to set 
the mine intervals, he ordered the 253- 
pound explosive charge rolled down the 
small gangplank and into the ocean below. 
An army pilot watching them calmly repor- 
ted that they were pushing "minelike ob- 
jects" over the side. 51 

Bernsen and his operations deputy had 
been listening in to the reports from their 
command center on the La Salle. Bernsen 
was actually across the room on a secure 
phone talking with Crist, who happened to 
be out in the Gulf of Oman meeting with 
Denny Brooks, as the new joint task force 
had formally stood up the day the Iran Ajr 
left port. When Bernsen heard "minelike ob- 
ject," he told Grieve, "Take them under fire." 

An uncertain Grieve responded, "Sir, only 

"Bullshit!" Bernsen answered. "They're 

mines!" 52 

Two Little Birds came in low and fast. 
While one strafed the deck with his minigun 
with nearly two thousand bullets, the other 
unleashed a hail of machine-gun fire and ex- 
plosive rockets into the bridge and stern. 
One Iranian sailor who happened to be 
dumping trash caught the full force of one 
rocket in his face, cleaving off half his head, 
sending brains and bloody goo across the 
deck. A propane tank explosion killed anoth- 
er sailor near the engine. 53 The two heli- 
copters broke hard right, and then came 
back around for another strafing run, 
showering the bridge and deck with bullets 
and flechette rockets filled with tiny darts. 
They returned to the Jarrett to quickly 

rearm, leaving the Iran Ajr on fire and dead 
in the water. 

When the helicopters returned about fif- 
teen minutes later, incredibly, they found the 
ship under way and Ibrahimi's men pushing 
more mines over the side. The American 
helos came in again with two more strafing 
runs. One Iranian pushing a mine died in- 
stantly, while another was knocked over- 
board and disappeared into the black sea. 
The fusillade caught Farshchian: a bullet 
passed through his side and another blew off 
part of his hand; a flechette ripped open his 
side, exposing his pelvic bone. An explosion 
knocked Ibrahimi to the metal deck, badly 
bruising his face. This time, the Iranians had 
had enough, and Lieutenant Fouladvand 
yelled, "Abandon ship!" 

A dozen men jumped over the side, while 
ten more took to an inflatable life raft, bring- 
ing along the grievously wounded Farshchi- 
an. Others made their flight in an inflatable 

Zodiac speedboat. When one of the army 
helicopters approached and dropped down 
to a hover, an Ira-nian jumped up and made 
what the pilot later described as a "threaten- 
ing gesture." As the helicopter flew alongside 
the boat, one of the army pilots pulled out a 
submachine gun from his holster, took aim, 

and blew the man away. 54 

Within thirty minutes, news of the firefight 
had arrived in the Pentagon. Crowe quickly 
held a short meeting with Weinberger, be- 
fore heading to the maze of the National Mil- 
itary Command Center in a guarded area just 
down the hall from his second-floor office, 
where he spent the next eight hours monitor- 
ing the crisis. After informing the White 
House and key members of Congress, Wein- 
berger authorized seizing the Iranian ship. 

This order made National Security Adviser 
Frank Carlucci and his deputy, Colin Powell, 
nervous. Powell spoke with Weinberger. 
"The president has been informed," the army 

general said, "yet we do not want to risk 
American lives by seizing the ship. We want 
to keep it contained and get them to sur- 
render." Then he added, "But you can shoot 
if they offer resistance." Neither Weinberger 
nor Crowe thought that directive made much 
sense, and it took nearly an hour before 
Carlucci finally informed Weinberger that 
the president had agreed they should seize 
the ship, but should avoid any unnecessary 

risk to U.S. personnel. 55 

.Lieutenant Commander Marc Thomas 
had been happily sleeping in his stateroom 
on the Guadalcanal when news of the fire- 
fight with the Iran Ajr interrupted his slum- 
ber around midnight. With his dark skin, 
Thomas could have easily been confused for 
an Arab rather than an elite Navy SEAL. His 
bright eyes, infectious smile, and easygoing 
demeanor made him popular with both 

senior officers and the fifteen men in his pla- 
toon. He had originally been a part of Gor- 
don Reiser's marine amphibious unit, which 
the marine colonel had successfully lobbied 
to keep on board the ship in Diego Garcia. 
Now Bernsen wanted the SEALs' special 
skills to seize the stricken minelayer. Thomas 
rousted his men, and they donned their war- 
fighting kit and flew over to the La Salle. 
There Thomas found Bernsen's staff hastily 
trying to put together a plan to seize the Iran 
Ajr and round up the Iranian sailors 
scattered about the mine-strewn water. Tho- 
mas proposed simultaneous assault fast-rop- 
ing down onto the ship from helicopters 

while marines assaulted from rubber boats. ^ 
But Bernsen had just spoken with Crowe. 
Reflecting the nervousness in Washington, 
the chairman passed on that Bernsen could 
seize the boat only if it looked as though 
there was no armed opposition on board. To 
avoid running into mines and to be able to 

see any armed Iranians, Bernsen told Crowe 
and Crist that he would take the Iran Ajr the 

next morning, just after sunrise. 52 The 
SEALs would use one of the La Salle's logist- 
ics boats to storm the ship in broad daylight. 
Two U.S. Marine Cobra attack helicopters 
and Paul Evancoe's patrol boats would 

provide backup in case they got in trouble. 5 ^ 

At first light on September 22, the La Salle 
flooded its well deck; then Thomas boarded 
the landing boat and puttered toward the 
drifting Iranian ship in the bright blue day- 
light. With the SEALs crouched around the 
gunwales, the coxswain pulled alongside 
with a metal clang, turning his engines hard 
to keep his boat pressed against the side of 
the Iranian ship. "One hand grenade could 
kill us all," Thomas thought as he and his 
platoon scrambled up the side, moving 
swiftly to seize the bridge and engine room. 
They then methodically searched the ship, 
looking for saboteurs hiding in closets. But 

other than finding three bodies, the ship was 

empty. 52 

The SEALs discovered a treasure trove of 
intelligence. In their haste, the Iranians had 
tossed their radio crypto over the side, but 
had left reams of messages and decoded tele- 
type. SEALs found the entire secret Ghadir 
mining plan to close the Strait of Hormuz; it 
was a remarkable bit of carelessness by the 
Iranian navy. They found a map detailing all 
of Iran's covert mining operations. Reams of 
messages contained details of their oil plat- 
forms' role in coordinating attacks and Irani- 
an command and control procedures. The 
United States learned about Iranian eaves- 
dropping on the radio bridge transmissions 
of the escorted tankers. One SEAL noticed a 
piece of paper sticking out of the foul- 
smelling toilet. He reluctantly stuck his 
gloved hand down and pulled it out, to dis- 
cover an important codebook that some 

crewman had tried to hastily conceal.— 

Among the documents, the Americans 
found poignant reminders of the humans 
they had just attacked. On one of the 
corpses, a marine Farsi interrogator found a 
photograph of a smiling ten-year-old 

boy— the same age as his own son.— 

As Thomas cleared the ship, Evancoe and 
Wikul's two patrol boats suddenly appeared 
off the starboard side. In their haste to leave 
Bahrain, the boat with their only secure ra- 
dio had run aground. They had no idea what 
frequency Thomas's forces used, and they 
could not raise the La Salle. Undaunted, they 
pressed on, planning their own assault on 
the Iran Ajr, determined to kill anyone re- 
maining, unaware that Thomas's SEALs had 

already boarded.— 

Evancoe spied a dark-skinned man carry- 
ing a rifle and immediately ordered all the 
guns trained on him. Thomas always thought 
Evancoe overly aggressive, and this action 

got his attention. "Okay, Paul, please don't 
shoot me!" 

Wikul commanded the lead boat and 
ordered his men to hold their fire pending 
his order. When he rounded the other side of 
the Iran Ajr, he saw the La Salle's boat. "My 
heart almost came out of my mouth. I nearly 

shot my friend."^ 3 

With disaster averted, Evancoe and Wikul 
turned their attention to picking up the sur- 
vivors. Their two boats closed on a tented 
circular bright orange life raft. Unsure of 
what awaited them, Wikul pointed a shotgun 
at the Iranians and motioned for them to put 
their hands in the air. All immediately com- 
plied. One by one, each swam over to Wikul's 
boat. The Americans bound them, covered 
their eyes with gray duct tape, and stacked 
them unceremoniously facedown on the ab- 
rasive nonskid deck. When a SEAL dis- 
covered a pistol on one, he punched him un- 
conscious and tossed the weapon overboard. 

One man remained inside the raft: Com- 
mander Farshchian. Wikul grabbed a pistol, 
swam over, and climbed onto the life raft 
bobbing nearby. Unsure of the Iranian's in- 
tentions, Wikul started frisking him for a 
weapon and his finger inadvertently went in- 
side a gaping wound in the Iranian's side. 
Farshchian screamed out in agony. Reflex- 
ively, Wikul pressed his gun to Farshchian 
before realizing it had not been a precursor 
to the Iranian blowing himself up. As he 
transferred Farshchian over to the American 
boat, the Iranian looked at Wikul and said in 
perfect English, "I still have four of my men 
in the water; would you please rescue them?" 
Even Wikul was impressed. "It's hard not to 
respect a guy who, despite his own wounds, 
his first words were for the welfare of his 

men." 64 The final tally: five Iranians dead 
and twenty-six captured, with several in the 
same bad shape as Farshchian. 

The capture of the Iran Ajr was one of the 
biggest American intelligence coups in mod- 
ern history. The invisible hand of God 
proved to be made out of Iranian flesh and 
spilled blood. That afternoon both Crist and 
Bernsen visited the Iranian vessel. They 
brought along photographers, and the next 
day newspapers around the globe carried 
front-page photographs of nine mines sitting 
on the Iran Ajr's open deck. 

Iran denied that the ship had been carry- 
ing mines. Speaking before the United Na- 
tions, President Ali Khamenei called the 
American charges a "pack of lies," and an 
Iranian spokesman said the ship had only 

carried foodstuffs.^ 5 

As the Iranian prisoners were being repat- 
riated through Oman— all wearing newly 
provided USS La Salle T-shirts— Weinberger 

flew out to the Gulf and inspected the ship.— 
There a gleeful secretary told the assembled 
reporters that the capture was "not just a 

smoking gun, but a blazing gun." With the 
evidence obvious as to this ship's real mis- 
sion, and public commendations coming 
even from the Soviet Union, Weinberger 
smiled, pointed to the mines sitting on the 
deck, and said: "That's the biggest load of 

groceries I've ever seen!"^ 2 

Weinberger ordered the Iran Ajr sunk. To 
make a point, a U.S. warship towed the 
minelayer well inside the Iranian-declared 
exclusion zone. Paul Evancoe rigged explos- 
ives and blew out the ship's bottom. She 
quickly sank, leaving only an oil slick and a 
few of the oil drums that had unsuccessfully 
tried to hide her deadly cargo. 

The Iranians immediately halted all min- 
ing operations. Embarrassed and exposed, 
with the world condemning them, Ayatollah 
Khomeini agreed to draw back the invisible 
hand. But Iran had hardly caved to American 
pressure. In Tehran during the Friday pray- 
ers after the seizure of the Iran Ajr, 

President Ali Khamenei told the gathering 
that "we will respond to America's wicked 
acts in the Persian Gulf." The Iranians were 
about to turn up the burner and make the 
Gulf a great deal warmer for the Americans. 




W hen Admiral William Crowe read the 

top secret CIA memo, he immediately real- 
ized the magnitude of the crisis. The United 
States verged on the brink of war in the 
Middle East. Iran planned to conduct a 
massive naval attack on Saudi Arabia with 
the objective of crippling Saudi oil produc- 
tion, the late September 1987 report stated 
bluntly. Over the past month, American in- 
telligence had reported an unusual congrega- 
tion of small boats manned by fervent Re- 
volutionary Guard sailors in the northern 
Persian Gulf, and recent satellite images con- 
firmed boats being moved by truck from 

southern Iran. 1 But Iran's intentions eluded 
the Pentagon; analysts suspected it was only 

a military exercise. This new report, 
however, described in detail the numbers of 
Iranian boats and their targets in Saudi Ara- 
bia, and even predicted the time for the at- 
tack: within seventy-two hours. Crowe held 
the outline for Tehran's entire war plan. 

"How good is your source for this?" Crowe 
asked the CIA officer. 

"He is a recent recruit, a navy captain well 
placed within the Iranian military. He has 
proven reliable in the past," the officer 

After quickly checking with the deputy na- 
tional security adviser, Colin Powell, at the 
White House, Crowe dismissed the CIA of- 
ficer and swiveled around in his chair, picked 
up the secure telephone on the credenza be- 
hind his imposing wooden desk, and 
punched the autodial for the Saudi ambas- 
sador to Washington, Prince Bandar bin 
Sultan. Their relationship remained strong 
with Bandar helping to arrange financial 

support for the CIA's secret wars in Afgh- 
anistan and Central America, and he had re- 
cently hosted a meeting at his Potomac River 
home between the CIA and Iraqi officials 

about sharing satellite intelligence of Iran. 2 

That afternoon the two men met in 
Crowe's office. "We have a tip-off from a 
source of an impending attack on your oil fa- 
cilities," Crowe began. "The Iranians are de- 
liberately flooding their radios with false in- 
formation, so we don't know the exact day, 
but likely October second. You need to give 

them a warm welcome." 3 

"I told you the Iranians were building up 
for something," Bandar replied, referring to 
a conversation between the two men earlier. 
"If pushed, we will respond forcefully." He 
grew visibly angry as he continued. "We will 
bomb their oil facilities! Our military plans 
are doable; we will hit Iranian oil facilities on 
Kharg Island and their port of Bushehr with 

ten Tornado aircraft! I just need to know," 
Bandar added, "will you support us?" 

In July 1987, Iran had tried to instigate an 
uprising in Mecca during the annual hajj. 
Dozens of Revolutionary Guard soldiers had 
secretly arrived in the holy city armed with 
rifles and explosives. One of William Casey's 
CIA recruits in the Revolutionary Guard, 
Reza Kahlili, had tipped off the agency to the 
Iranian scheme. The CIA passed it to Saudi 
security, which moved forcefully against the 
Iranians, killing 275 Iranian demonstrators, 
including some hapless civilians. The com- 
mander of the Revolutionary Guard, Major 
General Mohsen Rezai, advocated retali- 
ation. The truculent former electrical engin- 
eer had long advocated an attack on Saudi 
Arabia or American forces in the Gulf, and 
he had nearly succeeded in doing so on the 
night of the first convoy, until he was reined 
in by the supreme leader. This time, 

Ayatollah Khomeini agreed with Rezai. 
Kuwait and Saudi Arabia needed to be taught 
a lesson. 

Captain Touradj Riahi served in a plum 
billet as head of the navy plans division in 
Tehran. He worked closely with a Revolu- 
tionary Guard officer and former colleague 
in the old shah's navy to write a plan to strike 
back at Saudi Arabia, fittingly named Opera- 
tion Hajj. The plan showed a rare level of co- 
operation between the Revolutionary Guard 
and the Iranian navy. The Iranians would 
amass dozens of guard small boats at 
Bushehr and Kharg Island in the northern 
Gulf. With a Revolutionary Guard officer in 
charge, embarked on one of the smaller navy 
missile boats serving as his flagship, this 
mosquito swarm of a fleet would be split into 
three flotillas. Under the cover of darkness, 
they would move en masse across the Gulf 
and then attack different Saudi and Kuwaiti 
oil facilities around al-Khafji with rockets 

and machine guns. One group would land 
commandos in Saudi Arabia to destroy a vi- 
tal oil pumping station, perhaps even one of 
the Saudi desalination plants, which 
provided much of the desert kingdom's 

On September 30, 1987, General Rezai ar- 
rived at the Persian Gulf port of Bushehr. To 
control Operation Hajj, the Iranians had es- 
tablished a makeshift headquarters in an old 
dormitory building next to the jetty at 
Bushehr. Captain Riahi came down from 
Tehran to serve as the senior naval officer, 
with the head of the Revolutionary Guard, 
General Rezai himself, supervising the oper- 
ation. Using the diversion of their well-publi- 
cized "Martyrdom" military exercise around 
the Strait of Hormuz, the Iranians quietly 
began pulling a number of the small Boston 
Whaler-type gunboats out of the water and 
loading them on flatbed trucks. They covered 
the boats with tarps to conceal their nature 

from prying eyes and passing American 
satellites. Over a period of several weeks, the 
Revolutionary Guard drove an untold num- 
ber of boats up to Bushehr and quietly 
amassed at least four dozen small boats and 
one missile patrol boat in the northern Gulf. 

After the Iran Ajr sinking, the Iranian 
commander decided to also establish a 
blocking force to interdict any American re- 
inforcements moving up from Bahrain. He 
would park a few boats astride the shipping 
channel, and they would carry a nasty sur- 
prise. In case the army Little Birds heli- 
copters showed again, the Revolutionary 
Guard brought along a Stinger missile, the 
most sophisticated American handheld anti- 
aircraft system. Only recently the U.S. gov- 
ernment had decided to allow the CIA to 
provide these to the Afghan mujahideen 
fighting the Soviets, and the Stingers had 
helped turn the tide of the war against Mo- 
scow. Without the agency's knowledge, 

Ismail Khan, a powerful Afghan warlord 
friendly to Iran, had spirited ten of these 
missiles to the Iranian military. Now Iran 
gleefully intended to turn America's own 
weapons back on the Great Satan. As the day 
of the attack approached, senior officials 
from Tehran arrived to witness the opera- 
tion, joining a cadre of army and navy 

Within the CIA, Captain Riahi was a prized 
agent. He had repeatedly proven his worth 
by a steady stream of timely and accurate in- 
formation about the Iranian military. He 
now found himself as the senior naval officer 
in the most significant Iranian military oper- 
ation of the entire war. At considerable risk, 
Riahi managed to quickly get the details of 
the Iranian attack back to his handler at Te- 
hfran. How he passed this is not clear. He 
may have relayed it through a German- 
speaking man in Tehran simply known as 
"the Austrian." While the CIA had a spy 

effort against Iran in Vienna (Austria was 
one of the other countries where Iranians 
could obtain a visa to the United States), his 
true nationality remains ambiguous. This 
mystery man emerged from the shadows on 
one occasion: he turned up one evening for a 
party at Captain Riahi's home and was intro- 
duced as the man who'd helped obtain his 

son's visa. 4 

Alerted to the threat, CENTCOM started 
monitoring the massing of small boats near 
Bushehr. On September 26, the DIA repor- 
ted up to thirty-three small boats alone at the 
port. Four days later, U.S. intelligence detec- 
ted as many as seventy Revolutionary Guard 
boats arrayed along a forty-five-mile-long 

front. 5 This alert brought Bandar into 
Crowe's office that afternoon. 

On October 1, General George Crist, who 
was in the region, called Crowe to update 
him about a conversation with senior Saudi 
military officials. If Iran attacked, the Saudis 

would allow U.S. attack helicopters and sur- 
veillance aircraft into the kingdom. Crist 
wanted to send three U.S. Navy P-3 turbop- 
rop planes immediately to Saudi Arabia, as 
their excellent surface search radar would be 
invaluable for detecting the Iranian boats. 
Crowe contacted Bandar and relayed the re- 
quest, adding that these were "nonoffensive" 
planes. Prince Bandar immediately called his 
father, the defense minister, in Riyadh and 
obtained his permission for the deployment 
of the P-3S to the King Abdul Aziz Air Base at 
Dhahran. Crist assigned his chief of staff, 
Don Penzler, to coordinate the details with 

the Saudi military.- The next day, Crowe, 
Crist, Armitage, and Bandar (accompanied 
by a Saudi major general) gathered for a 
hastily arranged conference in the chair- 
man's office. Bandar appeared nervous and 
agitated but struck a defiant tone. His gov- 
ernment, however, was clearly worried and 
wanted reassurances of American support if 

Iran attacked. The P-3S were on the way, 
Crowe said, due in Dhahran in three days, 
and Crist offered to deploy attack helicopters 
or fighter jets if the Saudis asked. 

That evening, October 2, an American 
AWACS radar plane out of Saudi Arabia 
patrolled the northern Gulf. Designed to de- 
tect airborne targets, on that night it used its 
radar to look for any movement on the sur- 
face of the water. Suddenly, it picked up 
forty-five small blips moving rapidly toward 
the Saudi-Kuwait border and the al-Khafji oil 
facility. The expected attack appeared under 
way, and the pilot sounded the general 
alarm. Saudi Arabia scrambled F-15 fighters. 
Harold Bernsen at Middle East Force 
ordered the two frigates carrying the army 
Little Birds plus the helicopter carrier 
Guadalcanal with the marine attack heli- 
copters north at maximum speed to intercept 

the Iranian horde. 2 

When the host of American and Saudi 
ships and planes arrived, they found no Ira- 
nian fleet, just a few odd fishing dhows ply- 
ing the waters. The next day the American 
P-3S began flying, and they too saw nothing 
unusual. After a week of intelligence warn- 
ings, the Iranian forces had simply 

Saudi generals then accused the Americ- 
ans of making up the entire attack story. 
Penzler received an earful from the skeptical 
commander of the Saudi land forces, General 
Yusef Rasid, who accused him of being part 
of an elaborate hoax to get U.S. military 
forces inside his country. Others pointed out 
that it had been a stormy night; perhaps the 
AWACS had picked up nothing more than 


In truth, Mohsen Rezai had had every in- 
tention of attacking Saudi Arabia that night. 
The dark moonless night and rough seas had 
combined to turn his attack into a fiasco. The 

missile boat serving as the command ship 
became disoriented. She veered well off 
course, heading in the wrong direction. The 
high seas swamped one of the small boats 
and tossed and scattered the others all over 

the northern Gulf. 2 Undaunted, the Revolu- 
tionary Guard commander ordered another 
attempt for the following week. This time, 
Captain Riahi could not get the message out 
to his American handlers at Tehfran. 

nto this environment, the barge Her- 
cules deployed for her first operation in the 
northern Gulf. Paul Evancoe was assigned as 
the commander, and since his arrival in early 
September, the SEAL had worked tirelessly 
to outfit this first mobile sea base. His men 
filled twenty thousand sandbags and in- 
stalled metal ballistic shields around the gun 
emplacements in the four corners. He had 
old crew quarters and drilling equipment 

removed and replaced by steel ammunition 
bunkers, an aircraft hangar, and a commu- 
nications van. At one point forty welders 
worked twenty-four hours a day to transform 
the Hercules into an armed firebase bristling 
with weapons manned by 177 marines and 
special operators and a few intelligence lin- 
guists.— Meanwhile, work continued on the 
Wimbrown. Unfortunately, it would not be 
ready for operation until December. 

The Hercules had a civilian crew of about 
thirty serving in such capacities as welders, 
cooks, and crane operators. Despite the 
secret nature of the sea bases, the civilian 
crew hired by Brown and Root were a motley 
group from Pakistan and the Philippines. 
Their background checks appeared sketchy 
to American counterintelligence officers, 
who worried that some might be Iranian 

spies or saboteurs. 11 Over the next year of the 
mobile sea bases' existence, however, other 
than to serve overly spicy curry to American 

special operators, all behaved properly and 
kept quiet. 

Incredibly, as tugs towed the Hercules up 
to its station near Farsi Island on October 6, 
neither Evancoe nor Wikul knew anything 
about the near war between Iran and Saudi 

Arabia the preceding week.— For the first 
two days, they sent out their patrol boats 
looking for suspicious vessels. They found 
one, an Iranian dhow with an antenna stick- 
ing out of its cockpit, which appeared to be 
collecting intelligence on the barge. Both 
Wikul and Evancoe felt a growing sense of 
unease. With the nearest American ship, the 
frigate USS Thach, which provided air de- 
fense for the Hercules, twenty miles to the 
south, "we had the distinct feeling of being 

hung out to dry," Wikul said. 13 

On the evening of October 8, Wikul and 
Evancoe talked about their situation. Each 
had a strong suspicion that the Iranians in- 
tended to attack. Rather than just sit back 

and wait for the Iranians, they decided to put 
out a listening post to try to find out what the 
Iranians on Farsi Island were doing. After 
nightfall, they would send two patrol boats 
out with a small radar-absorbing Seafox. It 
would carry a couple of marine Farsi lin- 
guists with sophisticated eavesdropping 
equipment. As the patrol boats passed close 
to the Middle Shoals buoy marking shallow 
water, approximately fifteen miles west of 
Farsi, the Seafox would be dropped off, its 
radar signature blending into that of the 

buoy's. 14 From there, the marine linguists 
could listen in on the Iranian island and the 
Revolutionary Guard small boats. Similar 
tactics had proved successful with marine 
helicopters in other parts of the Gulf. 13 

After dark the operation got under way. 
Two blacked-out patrol boats left Hercules at 
nine p.m. with the small Seafox in tow and 
headed for the buoy only eight miles away. 
As insurance, Evancoe had three of the Little 

Birds fly ahead to scout out the buoy in front 

of the slower-moving patrol boats.— The lead 
helicopter, looking through its black-and- 
white infrared camera, noticed three boats 
already at the buoy. "That's strange," the pi- 
lot thought. "Our boats shouldn't be here 
yet." As he closed to within one hundred 
yards, he saw someone lean up in a small 
bass boat and man a heavy machine gun 
mounted on a tripod at the bow. As the 
American helicopter banked hard to the left, 
a string of tracker bullets whizzed past his 
canopy, missing the helicopter by mere feet. 

Unbeknownst to the Americans, that 

very same night Mohsen Rezai decided to 
retry the Operation Hajj attack plan that had 
been thwarted by bad weather the week be- 
fore. While the main flotilla assembled 
around some Iranian platforms in the north- 
ern Fereidoon oil field, that morning one of 

the larger cabin cruiser-type boats called a 
Boghammer and two smaller boats had de- 
parted Bushehr for Farsi Island. The group 
was commanded by a very forceful and com- 
petent young Revolutionary Guard officer 
named Mahdavi, who told his men, "You are 

headed on a great mission!" 12 Not all of the 
ten-man crew shared their commander's en- 
thusiasm. They were a motley collection of 
conscripted landlubbers: one was a hulking 
illiterate farm boy, and another had deserted 
the army and traveled to Bushehr to visit a 
friend. The guards swept him off the street 
and threw him on the Boghammer to serve 

as their cook.— 

After a brief stop at Farsi, where they 
waited for darkness and said their prayers, 
the three boats headed out shortly after sun- 
set. The flotilla comprised the Boghammer 
with five men, including the officer in 
charge, and two small fiberglass fishing 
boats, each with a crew of three. All three 

men were armed with the traditional 
weapons of the Revolutionary Guard navy— a 
107-mm multiple rocket launcher, heavy ma- 
chine guns, and smaller-caliber weapons. 
But one Iranian on the Boghammer carried 
one of the American Stinger missiles, with 
orders to shoot any American helicopter he 

saw. 13 Mahdavi's mission was to prevent the 
Americans from interfering in the big attack 
on Saudi Arabia. 

The three boats pulled up near the buoy 
and clustered together, the Iranian crews 
talking, relaxing, and smoking cigarettes as 
they prepared to bed down for the night. A 
man on one of the smaller boats heard the 
low whirl of a helicopter. He sprang to his 
gun and opened fire into the darkness in the 
general direction of the noise. 

The lead Little Bird pulled out and vec- 
tored in the two attack variants trailing just 
behind. One unleashed two deadly flechette 
rounds filled with tiny darts into the cluster 

of Revolutionary Guard boats. The American 
helo followed it up with a burst of machine- 
gun fire and explosive rockets. One of the 
fiberglass boats erupted in a massive fireball, 
blowing it in half and spreading burning gas- 
oline across the water. The American pilot's 
wingman came in and unleashed on the re- 
maining small boat and the Boghammer, 
leaving the former on fire. One crewman 
pushed the throttle full forward, and the 
Boghammer tried to pick up speed and man- 
euver to avoid being hit. The guard com- 
mander ordered it to circle back around and 
then slow to try to pick up survivors from the 
other two boats. The Little Birds closed in 
again and were greeted by the flash of a mis- 
sile or rocket coming up from the Bogham- 
mer, which passed harmlessly by the heli- 
copter. The Boghammer got up speed and 
tried to flee, maneuvering erratically. One of 
the Iranians grasped an Iranian flag and 
kneeled down on the cabin floor, praying for 

deliverance. A Little Bird launched his last 
rocket, which skipped off the water and hit 
the cabin cruiser squarely in the port side, ig- 
niting a fuel tank. The boat erupted in a 
massive fireball, instantly killing the man 
praying in the cabin as well as Mahdavi. The 
boat sank in less than thirty seconds. 

Evancoe had immediately ordered general 
quarters at the first sight of tracer fire, 
clearly visible in the darkness eight miles 
away. As the marine security platoon 
manned their positions, the remaining patrol 
boat was lowered into the water, joining the 
other already serving as a local protection 
and reaction force. Marines and SEALs 
tossed grenades over the side in case Iranian 
frogmen might be lurking, ready to storm the 
Hercules. The commander launched the oth- 
er two patrol boats, which took a position 
just north of the barge. Three additional 
Little Birds arrived as reinforcements. 

The two U.S. patrol boats went to full 
speed and quickly arrived at the scene. Fire 
and debris littered the water. They pulled 
five Iranians out and discovered a sixth man 
terribly burned, clinging to the buoy. As they 
slowly searched for more survivors, Petty Of- 
ficer James Kelz noticed a Styrofoam case 
floating in the water that looked like one that 
housed a battery for a Stinger missile. He 
dove over the side of the boat and swam out 
to retrieve the case. It proved to be electrify- 
ing evidence. Word quickly made it to the 
president that Iran had the most advanced 
surface-to-air missile in the American 

With only one corpsman, Wikul estab- 
lished a makeshift aid station in the small of- 
fice, its floor appropriately painted red. The 
medic frantically worked to save the six Ira- 
nians. One badly burned Iranian died shortly 
after arriving. Another more truculent Re- 
volutionary Guard sailor muttered insults in 

Farsi at the Americans. He kept wiggling and 
seemingly trying to get up from his stretcher 
and kill them. One of the unsmiling SEALs 
leaned over and said, "How does it feel to be 
shot by the Great Satan?" Wikul realized that 
something more than hatred plagued the dis- 
gruntled Iranian. With a pistol trained on the 
patient, Wikul ordered the corpsman to turn 
him over, and when they removed his 
bunched-up shirt, a fountain of blood spur- 
ted out of a gaping bullet hole in the man's 
back. The corpsman tried to plug the wound, 
and they carried him up the ladder to the 
flight deck to an awaiting medical evacuation 
helicopter. Halfway up the ladder, the 
wounded sailor let out a gurgled gasp of air 
and "suddenly got very heavy," as one litter 
bearer recalled. Although this second Iranian 
died, the other four survived, and a marine 
helicopter flew them to a hospital on an 
awaiting warship. 

Captain Frank Lugo immediately 
summoned Bernsen, who was in town having 
dinner with some Bahraini officials. Well to 
the south, an Iranian fired a missile from 
Rostam platform at a U.S. Navy helicopter 
operating from one of the frigates. The 
Middle East Force commander ordered the 
entire fleet to high alert. 

While Evancoe tried to answer insistent 
questions from a nervous Middle East Force 
about the firefight at Middle Shoals buoy, the 
radar on the Hercules picked up forty small 
craft that appeared to be headed south to- 
ward the mobile sea base. To Wikul, it ap- 
peared to be part of a coordinated attack 

with the small boats at the buoy.— 

Evancoe picked up the radio and called the 
commander of the two patrol boats, Lieuten- 
ant John Roark, standing in the path of the 
Iranian onslaught. "John, do you have the 
high-speed contacts?" 

"Roger, Skipper. What are your orders?" 

Evancoe calmly replied: "Turn and en- 
gage." And Roark did.— 

Twenty miles to the south on the USS 
Thach, Captain Jerry O'Donnell was working 
out in the ship's weight room when a call 
came from the watch officer: "Captain, your 
presence is required in the CIC [combat in- 
formation center]." He ran to the darkened 
room filled with radios and the glow of vari- 
ous radars. His own helicopter was aloft, us- 
ing its radar to guide the Little Birds. O'Don- 
nell had it return to his ship to pick up his 
corpsman and take him to the Hercules to 

help treat the wounded prisoners.— 

His radar then detected the Iranian flo- 
tilla, only they were west, toward Saudi Ara- 
bia, and not coming from Iran. After relaying 
this back to Lugo on the La Salle, and 
without waiting for permission, O'Donnell 
ordered general quarters and then flank 
speed. As men ran to their battle stations 

and manned and loaded the automatic gren- 
ade launchers and machine guns, the frigate 
kicked up a rooster tail of white foam as it 
made thirty knots north to position the ship 
between the Hercules and the Iranian small 
boats. There they joined four patrol boats 
and six army Little Birds, all arrayed to do 
battle with Mohsen Rezai's Revolutionary 
Guard fleet. 

Suddenly, the radar images started break- 
ing up. Then they just disappeared. Although 
the images had been solid contacts, unlike 
any weather effect commonly witnessed, 
O'Donnell concluded they had all been a 
false echo, in part because they appeared 
right off the Saudi coast. While Evancoe and 
Wikul remained convinced of the Iranian 
presence, the captain of the Thach reported 
back to Bernsen that it had been a false echo. 

But the two SEALs had been right. Opera- 
tion Hajj was in full force, and the three Ira- 
nian flotillas off the Saudi coast were about 

to open fire. The boats had just landed Irani- 
an commandos onto the Saudi beach when 
news of the disaster at Middle Shoals 
reached their makeshift headquarters in 
Bushehr. The ferocity and precision of the 
American attack stunned the Revolutionary 
Guard. With three boats sunk and seven sail- 
ors killed, and now faced with American heli- 
copters and patrol boats headed toward 
them from the south, either Rezai or his 
deputy immediately concluded they had 
walked into an ambush. The Saudis and the 
Americans had been waiting for them. He re- 
called the entire force, which hastened back 
to Bushehr. 

"No one realized how close a call we had 
that night," both Evancoe and Lugo recoun- 
ted. By sheer serendipity for the United 
States, the unwitting commander of the Her- 
cules had arrived just in time to thwart the 
largest Revolutionary Guard naval operation 
of the war. In war it is sometimes better to be 

lucky than good. On October 8, 1987, the 
American special operations forces were 
both. Unbeknownst to the anxious service- 
men on board the Hercules, this marked the 
first and only time the Iranians would seri- 
ously challenge the barges for control over 
the northern Gulf. 

In Bushehr, Mohsen Rezai and other seni- 
or officers immediately suspected that 
someone had tipped off the Americans. They 
had a traitor in their midst. Iranian counter- 
intelligence agents looked to the handful of 
senior officers with access to the details of 
the Hajj plan. Already wise to the CIA's Te- 
hfran operation, the Ministry of Intelligence 
and Security focused on those who still har- 
bored sympathy for the Americans. This in- 
cluded Captain Riahi. 

tung by two successive defeats, Iran de- 
cided to strike back at the chief culprit who 

had invited the Americans in: Kuwait. A 
week after the Middle Shoals shoot-out, the 
Liberian-registered tanker Sungari sat tak- 
ing on a load of crude at Kuwait's main oil 
terminal just south of Kuwait City. A bright 
light, almost like a flare, appeared in the dis- 
tance. It grew closer and larger. A massive 
Silkworm missile streaked in just above the 
waves. Its massive thousand-pound warhead 
slammed into the side of the Sungari, caus- 
ing a fire but no casualties. 

The next day, the reflagged tanker Sea Isle 
City approached the terminal to fill its own 
holds with Kuwaiti oil before the next con- 
voy. The tanker's master did a slight devi- 
ation to look at the damage to the Sungari 
from the day before. He chose the wrong 
time to be a tourist. Another Silkworm mis- 
sile lumbered in. Locking on to the Sea Isle 
City's white superstructure, the missile 
plowed into the pilothouse and crew quar- 
ters. The blast permanently blinded the 

American captain and the Filipino lookout 
and wounded sixteen other crewmen. 

Although Iranian president Ali Khamenei 
said that "Almighty God alone knew best 
where the missile came from," American in- 
telligence quickly backtracked the missiles' 
paths and found that both originated from 
the Iranian-captured peninsula of al-Faw, 

Iraq. 23 Both Silkworms had actually been 
captured from the Iraqi military. 

Rear Admiral Dennis Brooks commanded 
a newly established joint task force of all 
forces involved in the convoy operations. He 
decided to run this operation with little input 
from Bernsen. He hated the mobile sea base 
idea and disliked much of the surveillance 
scheme, including deploying the NSA assets 
down to the smaller ships. But Brooks knew 
what his boss, General Crist, wanted in the 
plan. With Washington unwilling to take 
stronger measures, the United States would 
move only to destroy the oil platforms that 

enabled the Revolutionary Guard to operate 
in the Gulf. Prime on Crist's mind was the 
one at Rostam. Rostam was actually three 
platforms— two only about a hundred yards 
apart and one to the north about two miles 
away, each resembling a square building and 
a three-level parking garage on stilts. They 
had facilitated the Iran Ajr's mission and 
served as a major forward command post for 
the Iranian small boats. Strategically situ- 
ated in the south-central Gulf along the con- 
voy route, they provided the Iranian military 
with a steady stream of reports about U.S. 

ship movements in the Gulf. 24 While Crist 
ordered Brooks to give warning to the Irani- 
ans in order to avoid loss of life, any display 
of hostility would be met with American fire- 
power, and he authorized Brooks to go into 

Iranian waters and airspace if necessary. 25 

At midafternoon on October 19, Brooks 
amassed four destroyers and two frigates off 
Rostam, set to begin the American answer to 

the Silkworm attack, code-named Operation 
Nimble Archer. Stationed off to the side was 
Jerry O'Donnell's USS Thach with Marc Tho- 
mas's SEALs embarked. Over the standard 
maritime radio channel the Iranians heard in 
English and Farsi: "Rashadt [Rostam] oil 
platform, this is U.S. Navy. You have twenty 
minutes to evacuate the platform." 

The Iranians heeded the warning. Looking 
on from the bridge of the Thach, Thomas 
could clearly see Iranians scrabbling down 
the ladder from one platform and into a 
tethered tugboat. Forming a tight line of 
battle, separated by only one thousand yards, 
the five U.S. warships slowly steamed in a 
lazy racetrack, their guns lowered.— 

"Commence fire." For the next hour, the 
American ships rained shell upon shell down 
on the platform proper and its nearby 
drilling rig. Most missed, falling over or un- 
der or simply passing harmlessly through the 
Erector Set-like construction of the oil 

platforms, but enough found their mark to 
obscure the target in smoke, blowing off the 
helicopter deck and severing one of the main 

support legs. 22 

From the bridge of the Thach, Marc Tho- 
mas watched the fireworks. In walked a 
slightly overweight chief with glasses, wear- 
ing his khaki uniform and a green steel-pot 
helmet. The chief was an avid reader of Sol- 
dier of Fortune magazine and had become 
friendly with Thomas, asking his opinion 
about fighting knives and guns described in 
the magazine. "We are really kicking their 
ass!" the chief said, pumping both fists into 
the air. After more than a thousand rounds 
had been fired, a cease-fire finally was 
ordered and the Thach with the SEALs 
closed in. 

Thomas and his SEALs approached the 
two abject platforms just at sunset. One was 
completely engulfed in a tower of flames. A 
shell had ignited the gas coming up from 

beneath the ocean floor, and as it turned out, 
the safety valve to prevent such a blowout 
had been installed backward. Even two hun- 
dred yards away the heat was intense. As it 
was too dangerous to board, Thomas's 
SEALs were directed to occupy the northern 
platform, which had not been shelled, to see 
if there was any useful intelligence. 

With darkness setting in, Thomas ap- 
proached the platforms cautiously. While it 
appeared abandoned, he could clearly see a 
twin-barrel antiaircraft gun. The SEALs fired 
a machine gun to clear out any Iranians re- 
maining. The SEALs then clambered up the 
ladder from their boats and moved room to 
room clearing the three-story structure, 
which took more than two hours to com- 
plete. Hearing voices in one room, a SEAL 
tossed in a grenade. When they moved in 
with weapons drawn, they found the room 
empty: the voices were coming from the ra- 
dio. The room proved another intelligence 

bonanza for the Americans. Reams of mes- 
sages were stacked up, with some still churn- 
ing out of the telex machine. Thomas's men 
scooped up all the documents, blew up any 
guns or radios, and headed back to the 
Thach. When all were safely back, some five 
hundred pounds of explosives sent one of the 
platforms into the sea. The other continued 
to burn until August 1988, when, after the 
war, repair crews finally got to turn off the 
flow of gas and oil. Middle East Force coined 
a name for it: "the flame of freedom." 

Following the operation, the United States 
deployed an array of floating hexagonal 
radar reflectors around Kuwait's oil terminal 
and the barge. CENTCOM cajoled the 
Kuwaitis into deploying antiaircraft missiles 
on a northern island to shoot down any more 
missiles. The reflectors proved their worth in 
early November, when another Silkworm 
from al-Faw streaked in, only to hit the fab- 
ric reflector instead of a nearby tanker. 

The spike in violence and the thwarted at- 
tack on the Saudi oil facilities opened the 
door for more American surveillance aircraft 
to keep tabs on the Iranians. As part of its 
covert air force, the CIA maintained a small 
paramilitary air wing housed near Williams- 
burg, Virginia. Operating under the Special 
Operations Group within the agency's Spe- 
cial Activities Division, it maintained ten 
specially configured fixed-wing planes and 
helicopters outfitted with the most advanced 
night-vision equipment and surveillance 
radar in the world, as well as forward-look- 
ing infrared radar and specially designed 
terrain-following radar, which permitted 
low-level flying in complete darkness. This 
included the small jelly bean-shaped 
Hughes/MD-500s, which were identical to 
the Little Birds of the U.S. Army's Task Force 
160. In fact, army and agency aircraft had 
grown out of the same program, developed 
for the army. When funds dried up in 1971, 

the CIA quietly stepped in to finish the pro- 
ject. The army and CIA formed a joint avi- 
ation unit called Seaspray. The unit soon 
broke into two different units, one "white," 
or openly acknowledged unit— TF-160 at 
Fort Campbell— with the other remaining a 

"black," or covert, unit.— 

In September 1987, the director of CIA's 
operations, Tom Twetten, received a phone 
call from General Colin Powell. A graduate of 
Iowa State, now in his early fifties, Twetten 
was thin and fit with a shock of graying hair. 
He had the deserved reputation as a thought- 
ful, taciturn bureaucrat. That afternoon, 
Powell relayed a request from the Defense 
Department: "Would CIA be willing to 
provide some of their aircraft to use in the 
Gulf to support the escort operations?" 

The CIA owned only a handful of these air- 
craft, and they were in high demand around 
the world. In recent years they had played a 
large role in America's secret war in Central 

America, but by 1987 this effort had largely 
ended. After mulling over Powell's request 
for a moment, Twetten said he did not see 
why not, but would take it up with the re- 
cently appointed new director, the popular 

and competent lawyer William Webster. 29 
Around the same time, Howard Hart, now 
the director of the Special Activities Division 
and thus owner of the paramilitary aircraft, 
received a phone call on his secure phone 
from a navy admiral in Crowe's office. "Mr. 
Hart, we need to conduct operations in the 
Persian Gulf and we need a nighttime in- 
frared capability. And we don't have any- 
thing. Do you?" 

A bemused Hart thought, "This must be a 
joke." He said, "Admiral, you're my navy, 
and you're telling me you don't have any- 
thing that flies and can see at night?" 

"No, we don't," the senior officer respon- 
ded, adding that they were looking into 

obtaining it, but needed an interim capability 
as a stopgap measure. 

Following a more formal letter asking for 
support coming from Weinberger, drafted by 
the Joint Staffs J-3, Special Operations Dir- 
ectorate, Webster held a meeting with his top 
subordinates to discuss the request. All 
agreed without hesitation that the CIA 
should agree to the request and support the 
military operation. Webster responded to 
Weinberger, agreeing to provide the aircraft, 
but with the caveat that they not fly within 
the "known threat ranges" of the Iranian 
weapons systems. This necessitated staying 
several nautical miles away from Iran's off- 
shore platforms. Weinberger and Crowe both 
agreed to this stipulation, and while the 
skilled CIA pilots did not always adhere to 
this over the next year, it remained the rule 
on paper. 30 

Hart dispatched several CIA officers to 
Bahrain to meet with both Bernsen and his 

intelligence officer, Commander Ziegler, to 
iron out tactical planning details with Middle 
East Force, a necessary precursor regardless 

of where they ended up in the Gulf. 31 The 
CIA agreed that its aircraft, while not falling 
under actual tactical control of Bernsen in 
the Gulf, would nevertheless take their direc- 
tion from him and would provide their intel- 
ligence directly back to Middle East Force 
and Brooks's joint task force. 

Prince Bandar phoned his father, the 
Saudi defense minister, and after a consulta- 
tion with the king, Saudi Arabia agreed to al- 
low the CIA planes to be based at a remote 
corner of the growing U.S. air base at 
Dhahran. On the night of October 14, a U.S. 
Air Force transport secretly landed at the 
Saudi airfield in Dhahran. It carried three 
CIA helicopters: two small Hughes/ 
MD-500S and a larger Bell 212 helicopter for 
search and rescue. That night, a fourth plane 
joined them, a sleek Merlin twin-prop 

airplane configured with search and FLIR 
night-vision radars, as well as secure satellite 
communications back to Washington. 

To maintain their independence and cov- 
er, they were housed in separate hangars 
well away from the seven-hundred-man mil- 
itary detachment supporting the P-3S and 
AWACS planes. The agency pilots operated 
under cover, refusing to acknowledge to their 
navy and air force counterparts for whom 
they worked, although it quickly became an 
open secret. As General Charles Horner re- 
called later, chuckling, "They would appear 
in the mess hall and the 'O' club and try to 
mingle with the other pilots as if they were 
just fellow military pilots, which most of 
them were, but it was something of a chal- 
lenge with their longer hair and beards." 32 

While the CIA used its own connections 
with the Saudi intelligence service to smooth 
over any concerns and provide a cover story 
for its aircraft, the agency's arrival met with 

the same suspicion from some Saudi officials 
in the defense ministry as the arrival of the 
P-3S, all as part of an American ruse to get 
military access to the kingdom. Dissuading 
the Saudis of this concern was not helped by 
another American SR-71 spy flight just six 
days later, on October 20. While the sole fo- 
cus of two air force pilots, Warren 
McKendree and Randy Shelhorse, was look- 
ing at the Iranian Silkworm missile sites 
around the Strait of Hormuz, the wide turn- 
ing radius of their high-flying twin-engine 
Blackbird required them to briefly fly over 
part of the Saudi kingdom. For suspicion- 
minded Arabs, was Iran or Saudi Arabia the 
true target of this sudden rise in U.S. spy 

planes? 33 

Under the code word Eager Glacier, within 
three days of arrival the four aircraft flew 
their first mission. The Merlin aircraft espe- 
cially were tailor-made to fill the vacuum of 
tracking the Iranians once the sun went 

down. Its equipment worked well and it 
could loiter much longer over the Gulf. The 
two CIA Little Birds worked equally well as 
their TF-160 cousins, their cockpits specially 
designed for flying with night-vision 

goggles. 34 The aircraft remained in the 
hangars during the day, flying only at night, 
trying to blend in with the normal air traffic 
over the Gulf before slipping off the main 
route and heading toward the Iranian side of 
the Gulf, often into the exclusion zone for- 
bidden to U.S. military planes. There the 
Merlin loitered several hours every night, 
monitoring the movements of suspicious Ira- 
nian vessels. Specific attention was paid to 
the three main choke points through which 
the tankers had to transit: the Strait of Hor- 
muz and the southern Gulf near Abu Musa; 
the central Gulf near the Iranian platforms at 
Rostam and Sassan just north of the United 
Arab Emirates; and in the north near Farsi 

Island and the Fereidoon oil fields. 35 

As agreed, the pilots took their direction 
from the joint task force's Middle East 
headquarters and provided their information 
back to their liaison officer on Brooks's staff, 
having first been quickly digested by a small 
cell of CIA intelligence analysts with direct 
communications links to the aircraft from 
their base in Dhahran. They tended to keep a 
wide berth of the Iranian platforms and 
ships, leading a few of the officers on scene 
to privately view them as being more risk 
averse than the TF-160 pilots, flying around 
trying to avoid Iranian machine guns and 
shoulder-fired missiles. Regardless, they flew 
virtually every night, often well into the Ira- 
nian side of the Gulf, tracking suspicious Ira- 
nian vessels and filling a niche capability not 
found in the U.S. military's inventory. 

Working within the structured framework 
of the frequently inflexible and controlling 
U.S. military did not come naturally to these 
maverick CIA pilots. They flew where 

directed, but filing detailed flight plans of 
their itinerary with the Middle East Force 
staff felt awkward for those whose job was to 
remain unseen and inconspicuous. 

"They never wanted to coordinate with 

anyone," recalled David Grieve. 3 ^ On one oc- 
casion this nearly proved fatal. A U.S. frigate 
detected a small, unidentified aircraft com- 
ing directly toward it from the Iranian side of 
the Gulf. After trying to hail it on the radio, 
the frigate's crew checked with Middle East 
Force on the La Salle, which had no informa- 
tion on any friendly aircraft in the vicinity. 
After taking more aggressive options, such as 
locking on to it with its fire control radar, the 
U.S. warship requested permission to en- 
gage. Fortunately, it just did not seem to be 
flying the profile of a suicide plane, and the 
on-scene destroyer squadron commander, 
Captain Donald Dyer, ordered the crew not 
to engage. "It's probably one of ours," he 
thought. 32 

The next day the navy launched an invest- 
igation into the mysterious aircraft whose 
crew nearly met their maker. It turned out to 
be the CIA's Merlin aircraft. When accused 
of being rogue and a hazard, the agency pi- 
lots forcefully responded that their mission 
and area of operation had been assigned by 
the military Middle East Force, and they had 
in fact notified that same higher headquar- 
ters of their takeoff time. If the military com- 
mand could not deconflict its flights with the 
ships it controlled plying the Gulf, "the prob- 
lem was a fucked-up navy operations staff," 
one still irritated participant said ten years 
later. When the name-calling died down, 
both sides agreed to procedures to avoid an- 
other such close encounter. The Eager Glaci- 
er pilots agreed to file a formal flight plan be- 
fore every mission through General Horner's 
air force command in Dhahran, although 
their mission objectives and their operations 
over Iranian territorial waters remained 

tightly held and off-limits to all but a few of 
the air force or navy staff officers in the Gulf. 

On November 27, 1987, the CIA's Clair Ge- 
orge sent a letter to Jonathan Howe, Crowe's 
executive assistant, inquiring about long- 
term intentions for supporting Earnest Will. 
Crist wanted the aircraft to remain until a 
suitable replacement could be found. "There 
is no single DOD platform which has the 
combination of capabilities the Merlin 
provides." Simply put, it was too valuable in 
providing real-time intelligence collection on 
Iranian Revolutionary Guard naval opera- 
tions. After the Pentagon examined some 
quick alternatives, such as leasing the air- 
craft from Langley— sans aircrew— or modi- 
fying a coast guard jet, both of which turned 
out to be too expensive and time-consuming, 

the CIA agreed to keep them there. 32 

yJn October 20, the first two MSOs, the 
old minesweepers, finally arrived in the Per- 
sian Gulf. Over the past six weeks, as they 
made their way from the East and West 
Coasts, a competition emerged as to which 
flotilla would arrive first. The West Coast 
won the race: the USS Esteem, commanded 
by a feisty, competitive Captain Robert 
McCabe, was the first to transit the Strait of 
Hormuz. 4 ^ Hunting for mines was a slow, la- 
borious process. The minesweepers moved 
slowly back and forth across the tanker 
routes. Each pass covered only a two- 
hundred-yard swath of water, and the Farsi 
mine danger area alone amounted to 140 

square miles. 41 The crew topside suffered as 
temperatures reached 130 degrees. To help, 
the navy flew in ice vests in which frozen gel 
packs fit in pouches for those standing 

watch. 42 The Saudis agreed to allow the MSO 
crews to rest in a segregated dock area at the 

small port of Jubayl. Here they could get 
some relief from the confines of their 
wooden cells and barbeque in what the navy 
called "steel-beach picnics." 

Everything looked like a mine. Old oil 
drums, cars, all the junk of the world 
dumped in the world's oceans appeared sus- 
picious in the fuzzy glow of the sonar screen. 
Frank DeMasi's Inflict investigated ninety- 
two such contacts in a single day. 43 Ships 
loaded with sheep from Australia and bound 
for Kuwait became especially irritating. As 
they approached port, they dumped all the 
dead sheep over the side. The bloated car- 
casses turned turtle and the four black 
hooves bobbed just above the water and 
looked remarkably like the horns of an Irani- 
an mine. 

On November 19, Frank DeMasi's ship was 
operating around a dozen miles south from 
where the Bridgeton had hit its mine. It was 
late in the day and getting dark, and DeMasi 

was about to halt the search for the day. Sud- 
denly, the sonar search radar operator an- 
nounced, "Minelike contact bearing 020 
range 450 yards." Slowing, the ship inched 
forward. As they closed to within eighty 
yards, the crew could clearly see a circular 
object with a chain going down to the ocean 
floor. "Jesus Christ, Captain," the seaman 
yelled, "this is a mine!" 

As the minesweepers lacked a remotely 
operated vehicle, standard on the more 
sophisticated European minesweepers, 
which would have allowed them to view the 
mine with a camera and even place a coun- 
tercharge on it, an explosive ordnance dis- 
posal (EOD) diver had to be sent to physic- 
ally view the object and verify it was a mine. 
It was one of the smaller Iranian-made 
Myams laid specifically to catch the Americ- 
an minesweepers. As it was getting late, they 
decided to throw a buoy attached to a two- 
hundred-pound concrete block nearby to 

mark the location and come back the next 

At first light, the three-man explosives 
team puttered out to the marker in a Zodiac. 
One diver went over the side and, to his hor- 
ror, saw a scrape mark down the side of the 
mine. The current had carried the weight 
and it had actually hit the mine. Had it 
struck one of the horns, there would have 
been nothing left of any of the men to send 
home for a funeral. The diver carefully 
placed a block of C-4 with a delayed timer on 
the side of the cylinder and returned to the 
boat, and the three men hastened back to the 

As DeMasi backed his ship away, his sonar 
discovered another mine just four hundred 
yards from the first. After the first mine det- 
onated in a massive geyser of white water, 
the diver destroyed the other mine. DeMasi 
drew a line of bearing down the two mines 
and proceeded to search along the azimuth. 

In a few days DeMasi's crew had rolled up 
the entire mine line. Each time they blew up 
a mine, the elated crew painted a small mine 
on the bridge wing. In short order, the Inflict 
was adorned with ten such characters. 

Meanwhile, the Fearless, searching the 
area to the north, discovered one of the lar- 
ger M-08 mines dropped to catch the Brid- 
geton back in July. Following DeMasi's play- 
book, Captain Jack Ross rolled up and des- 
troyed three neatly laid in a straight line. 44 
DeMasi joined him and discovered five more 
mines. The Iranians aided their task by lay- 
ing mines with sequential serial numbers. 
When the American divers noticed that they 
had skipped a number, they knew they had 

missed a mine in between. 45 By the end of 
the month, the aging MSOs had finished a 
remarkable operation and accounted for all 
twenty mines dropped by the Revolutionary 

In addition to those planted on the Gulf 
floor, dozens of drifting mines presented a 
hazard to Gulf shipping. Many originated 
from the Iraqi and Iranian fields in the north 
and had broken away from their moorings, 
while the Iranians set others adrift hoping 
the currents would carry them to the waters 
of the Gulf Arabs. Around Christmas, one 
floater was spotted just outside Bahrain's 
main harbor. In the middle of a Bob Hope 
show, Middle East Force ordered Robert 
McCabe's ship out to sea to get rid of the 
mine. They found it just at sunset and de- 
cided to detonate it by shooting it with a 
rifle. Instead of exploding, the hollow case 
just filled with water and the mine sank to 
the bottom of the harbor, where it still re- 
mains, much to the considerable annoyance 

of the emir's government. 

vJver the next several months, the 
hodgepodge of forces effectively cleared the 
mines and shut down Iran's Revolutionary 
Guard operation in the northern Persian 
Gulf. In December, the Wimbrown finally 
joined the Hercules as the SEALs and army 
pilots continued to refine their tactics. Oper- 
ating in pairs and at night, except when in- 
vestigating a specific contact, the patrols 
ranged from four to twelve hours. Occasion- 
ally, in an attempt to confuse the Iranians, 
all four were sent out in a close diamond 
formation so as to appear as a large target to 
the Iranians on Farsi Island. When just out- 
side the twelve-mile exclusion zone around 
the island, the boats would split apart at high 
speed, appearing to a thoroughly baffled Ira- 
nian radar operator as though the object had 
multiplied before his eyes. On one occasion, 
a Little Bird flew around the far side of Farsi 
and flew over the island just above the build- 
ings. If the Iranians tried to pursue, Wikul 

sat waiting in an ambush with patrol boats 
and more Little Birds. After Middle Shoals, 
the Iranians showed little stomach to tangle 
with the Americans. 

As a new year dawned, it appeared that the 
United States finally had the upper hand. A 
new American commander, Rear Admiral 
Tony Less, was headed to take charge in the 
Gulf, and the convoys went back and forth 
unmolested. Iran had not tried another min- 
ing since the loss of the Iran Ajr. The war 
with Iraq was turning against Iran, and lead- 
ers in Tehran grew increasingly desperate to 
try to curtail the Arab support for Saddam 
Hussein. But rather than calming down, the 
quasi-war between Iran and the United 
States was actually reaching its climax. 


No Higher Honor 

vJn a bright sunny late February day, 

General Crist joined Hal Bernsen for a cere- 
mony on the fantail of the USS La Salle, tied 
up pier-side in Bahrain. A strong wind blew 
the flags and flapped the awning covering 
the dignitaries from the Middle East sun. 
This was apropos, for a new American com- 
mander had arrived in the Gulf, Rear Admir- 
al Tony Less. Less had a quick smile, a quick- 
er wit, and a sharp temper. He had an effus- 
ive, sanguine personality that melded with 
common sense to make him a popular lead- 
er. He was a respected pilot with the navy 
and the former commander of the elite Blue 
Angels aerobatic flight team. The new com- 
mander knew a lot about what had 

transpired in the Gulf over the past few 
months. He'd commanded one of the carrier 
battle groups in August when Ace Lyons flew 
out with his Window of Opportunity plan. 
Crist, dressed in a high-collared white uni- 
form, took to the podium: "Napoleon once 
said, 'Nothing is so important in war as undi- 
vided command.' One hundred fifty years 
later we are participating in a ceremony 
which bears witness to the truth of these 

Admiral Less had arrived to relieve both 
Dennis Brooks and Harold Bernsen, consol- 
idating both the joint task force and Middle 
East Force under one commander. Since the 
formation of the joint task force in Septem- 
ber 1987, relations between Bernsen's and 
Brooks's staffs had become estranged, with 
the problem lying both in personalities and, 
more important, philosophical differences 
between the two navy commanders. Brooks 
had the difficult assignment of running an 

operation whose subordinate command was 
far more versed with the intricacies of the 
political and military concept of Earnest 
Will. Brooks disliked the idea of the mobile 
sea bases and delayed deploying the second 

barge Wimbrown VII. 1 He opposed the de- 
centralized nature of the intelligence collec- 
tion and viewed the use of the special opera- 
tions forces as an overly aggressive posture 

toward Iran. 2 He believed that the best way 
to avoid clashes with Iran was to stay out of 
the Gulf, running heavily armed convoys 
when necessary. Otherwise, avoid confronta- 
tions. Unfortunately, this ran counter to the 
entire operational scheme. The end of 
Brooks came when Crowe grew irate follow- 
ing a phone call to Bernsen in which he 
learned that Brooks had refused to send a 
tanker to pick up free fuel offered by Kuwait 
as compensation to the Americans, appar- 
ently worried about the safety of sending a 
military tanker into the Gulf. 3 This decision 

by Brooks cost the U.S. government nearly 

five million dollars. 4 

While Brooks, having been fired, left the 
Gulf without fanfare, Bernsen received a 
proper send-off. In his address at the change 
of command, the CENTCOM commander 
lavished praise upon Bernsen: "I am sure 
that often in the privacy of his cabin, this 
calm, unflappable commander must have 
echoed the thoughts of General Joffre, the 
French hero of the first world war, who said: 
'I don't know who won the Battle of the 
Marne, but if it had been lost, I know who 

would have lost it.'" 5 

By early 1988 the United States was firmly 
established in the Gulf. By the end of Janu- 
ary, a total of thirty major convoys had made 
the three- to five-day transit from the Gulf of 
Oman to just south of Kuwaiti waters, or vice 
versa. While tension remained high, Iranian 
activity appeared to have tapered off. There 
still seemed no end in sight for the U.S. 

commitment, as critics of the reflagging op- 
eration continued to point out, but by the 
spring of 1988 events were finally coming to 


vJn the afternoon of April 14, 1988, the 

American frigate USS Samuel B. Roberts 
steamed south toward the Strait of Hormuz, 
having just escorted two reflagged 
tankers— Gas King and Rover— to Kuwait, 
the twenty-fifth successful convoy of Earnest 

Will. 2 With a cloudless blue sky overhead 
and a light wind, the Roberts cruised at a 
brisk twenty-five knots as it headed to ren- 
dezvous with an oiler for some fuel before 
taking another Earnest Will convoy back 
north. She passed by the Shah Allum Shoal 
approximately fifty-five miles northeast of 
Qatar, an area of shallow water that forced 
the deep-draft tankers into a more 

constricted sea-lane. A mere two hours earli- 
er, the French frigate Dupleix had passed 
through the area, reporting nothing of in- 
terest. The two navies exchanged officers, 
and occasionally food, back and forth for a 
pleasant change in the daily staple of the two 
ships patrolling the Gulf. Recently the 
Roberts and the Dupleix had held a com- 
bined mess night in the Roberts's wardroom, 
complete with some smuggled French wine, 
a welcome treat on board a dry U.S. Navy 
warship. More important, the two com- 
batants looked out for each other; when an 
Iranian vessel loomed nearby, the Roberts 
noticed the French destroyer lying in the vi- 
cinity ready to provide assistance.- 

The Sammy B, as her crew affectionately 
called her, was a newly commissioned Oliver 
Hazard Perry-class frigate, of the same 
class as the ill-fated USS Stark. It was the 
third ship to bear the name; the original 
Samuel B. Roberts had been sunk off Samar 

in the Battle of Leyte Gulf on October 25, 
1944, with a loss of ninety crew. In his after- 
action report, the surviving captain, Robert 
Copeland, wrote: "In the face of this know- 
ledge, the men zealously manned their sta- 
tions wherever they might be, and fought 
and worked with such calmness, courage, 
and efficiency that no higher honor could be 
conceived than to command such a group of 
men." "No higher honor" stuck and became 
the motto of the next two ships. With a 
slender, 450-foot-long knife-shaped hull and 
boxy superstructure, the Roberts displaced 
more than four thousand tons and held a 
crew of 215 men. The navy had designed the 
frigate as an inexpensive solution to com- 
plete such unglamorous tasks as antisubmar- 
ine and convoy duties. 

Commander Paul X. Rinn, forty-two, com- 
manded the Roberts. Born in the Bronx, he 
had a rough-and-tumble upbringing, with a 
.22-caliber bullet hole in his leg to show for 

his youthful indiscretions. But he eventually 
turned himself around, graduated from a 
small Catholic college, Marist, in Poughkeep- 
sie, New York, and in 1968 was commis- 
sioned as an ensign in the U.S. Navy. In 
1972, during the waning days of the Vietnam 
War, Rinn found himself in a very unusual 
billet for a surface warfare naval officer. He 
worked as an adviser as part of the secret 
CIA war in Cambodia. Operating near the 
Laotian border building patrol bases along 
the Mekong River, he spent over two hun- 
dred days in combat areas being mortared 
and fired at along with a polyglot force of 
Navy SEALs and native levies. He ended up 
being the last U.S. naval officer out of Phnom 
Penh as the Khmer Rouge closed in and 
Cambodia became a killing field. The experi- 
ence forever changed Rinn. Unlike many of 
his contemporaries who had never heard a 
shot fired, in anger or otherwise, Rinn 
learned what it took to lead men in combat 

and strove to instill in his subordinates the 
importance of training for the realities of 
modern war, anticipating the eventuality of 
going into harm's way. 

Captain Rinn had the deserved reputation 
as an aggressive, cocky, in-your-face skipper. 
He spoke loudly and with confidence and 
had a temper dampened by a good-natured, 
sardonic sense of humor. In a service whose 
officers were largely engineers who acted 
more as technicians, Rinn was a bit of a nov- 
elty—he had charisma. It was contagious and 
engendered loyalty among his officers and 

The Samuel B. Roberts arrived in the Gulf 
on February 2, 1988, as part of Destroyer 
Squadron 22, commanded by a Red Man to- 
bacco-chewing Captain Don Dyer. Over the 
next two months, the Roberts escorted five 
convoys entering the bizarre world of the 
Persian Gulf and the tanker war. On his first 
inbound transit through the Strait of 

Hormuz, Rinn nearly fired on two Iranian 
F-4 Phantoms coming from Bandar Abbas. 
At the last minute, both turned away, 
seconds before Rinn, standing over the 
shoulder of a seaman with his finger hover- 
ing above the launch button, intended to give 
the go-ahead. That night, he had another 
close encounter with the CIAs Eager Glacier 
aircraft flying out of Dhahran on its nightly 
patrol off the Iranian coast. Less's command 
informed him it was a friendly aircraft, but 
only a minute before the Roberts would have 
sent a missile skyward. 

Rinn and the Roberts increasingly found 
themselves executing a new, more aggressive 
strategy against Iran. The new secretary of 
defense, Frank Carlucci, came to the 
Pentagon intent on making some changes to 
the U.S. operations in the Gulf. He was ap- 
palled at the specter of Iranians attacking 
unarmed merchant ships in plain sight of 
U.S. warships. He agreed with Joint Chiefs 

chairman Crowe that it was unseemly to 
have U.S. captains— bound by strict rules of 
engagement— unable to come to the aid of 
helpless seamen being gunned down by Ira- 
nian frigates and small boats. Admiral Crowe 
phoned General George Crist in Tampa late 
that January to direct him to up the ante on 
the Iranians. "Don't start a war," he said. 
"But, George, be aggressive and use radar, or 
this ship's presence— whatever you can do to 
break up their attacks." U.S. warships could 
not enter Iranian waters, but if they needed 
to push up into the Iranian exclusion zone, 
so be it. 

It fell to Tony Less to implement the new 
strategy. "The Iranians are chicken shits," 
Less said. "When they see a ship coming over 
the horizon, they run for home." Less briefed 
the newly arrived ship skippers, including 
Rinn: "Guys, we're at war. Don't lose your 
ship, but you've got radars.... Stymie them, 
don't let them lay mines, don't let them 

attack ships." What followed was a series of 
intensifying confrontations between the two 
fleets, with the Roberts leading the charge. 

The first encounter occurred near the Ira- 
nian island of Sirri. The Roberts detected the 
Iranian frigate Sabalan closing in for an at- 
tack on the unsuspecting Greek tanker 
Tandis. Rinn ordered "all ahead flank" as the 
Roberts rapidly closed on the Iranian ship. 
The British-built Sabalan was smaller than 
her American counterpart, only 311 feet in 
length and less than half the tonnage. But 
she represented the most formidable ship in 
the Iranian navy and was armed by a rapid- 
fire 114-mm turreted gun forward and three 
relatively small Sea Killer antiship missiles 
aft. The Sabalan was commanded by Abdol- 
lah Manavi, a regular navy officer with the 
dubious reputation of being one of the most 
cruel Iranian captains in the war. This odi- 
ous skipper had earned the nickname "Cap- 
tain Nasty" due to the ship's infamous 

reputation for deliberately attacking the crew 
quarters of neutral shipping. Even when his 
command in Bandar Abbas directed Captain 
Nasty not to attack a tanker, he often disreg- 
arded the order or openly lied to his superi- 
ors, seemingly delighting in aiming the ship's 
gunfire at the crewmen and their lifeboats. 
Then the Sabalan would transmit to the 

helpless tanker, "Have a nice day." 2 

Rinn brought his ship up on the Sabalan's 
stern, closing to within one mile. The crew of 
the Iranian vessel stared nervously back, 
pointing deck-mounted machine guns at the 
American ship. With the U.S. frigate on his 
stern, the Iranian captain turned hard to 
port and hit the accelerator. What followed 
was a strange minuet, with the Sabalan re- 
sembling a hare trying to elude a pursuing 
fox, turning rapidly to the left and right try- 
ing to throw off the pursuing U.S. ship and 
get into a position to bring her forward gun 
to bear while the Roberts matched her turn 

for turn. After several hours, the Sabalan 
had enough and headed north toward Iran. 
The Roberts did not pursue. That night an 
elated Rinn wrote his brother, "Crew on a 

high— captain's got balls!"— 

The next few encounters between the two 
ships near Abu Musa Island nearly ended in 
bloodshed. While the Sabalan continued to 
back down from a confrontation, her sister 
ship, the Sahand, was not so docile. On one 
occasion, the Roberts and the Sahand spied 
each other on radar; each turned immedi- 
ately and headed directly for the other. Clos- 
ing at a combined speed of nearly sixty knots 
an hour in a deadly game of chicken, each 
locked on to the other with its fire control 
radar, as Rinn put a missile up on his for- 
ward mount, ready to send it screaming to- 
ward the Sahand should the Iranian open 
fire. Just before the two collided, the Sahand 
turned away. 

Rinn continued to harass the Iranian ships 
near Abu Musa. On one occasion, he shad- 
owed an Iranian ship all night despite some 
of the worst weather in the Gulf, with waves 
higher than the Roberts's bridges, following 
the Iranian warship into the Iranian exclu- 
sion zone and breaking off pursuit only after 
daybreak. Less was pleased. While he ad- 
monished Rinn about being "too provocat- 
ive," he admired the skipper of the Samuel B. 
Roberts. "He was one of the best captains I'd 
seen," Admiral Less later commented. The 
aggressive new strategy seemed to be work- 
ing; Iranian attacks dropped off as the U.S. 
ships had the desired intimidating influence. 
U.S. intelligence monitoring Iranian commu- 
nication at the ist Naval District headquar- 
ters in Bandar Abbas noted the Iranians' 
growing concern at an inability to attack 
ships in the southern Gulf, one report re- 
marking that the United States seemed 

intent on doing everything to "protect" Sad- 
dam Hussein's war machine. 

One person who saw this cat-and-mouse 
game firsthand was an Associated Press re- 
porter named Richard Pyle. Short, with black 
hair and a bit of a hangdog face, he pos- 
sessed a quick wit and an attentive mind. 
Few reporters had as much combat experi- 
ence as Pyle. He served briefly in the army 
before becoming a reporter, rising to become 
the AP bureau chief in Saigon for much of 
the Vietnam War. Here he learned firsthand 
the idiosyncrasies of the U.S. military, as 
well as the tragedy of war, brought home by 
the loss of four reporters and close friends in 
Laos, including famed reporter Larry Bur- 
rows. Pyle was the only American reporter 
continuously covering the ongoing Iran-Iraq 
War and the U.S. intervention, Earnest Will. 
He lived in Bahrain, where his wife attended 
the same small Catholic church as Tony Less 
and his wife. Pyle threw himself into the 

tanker reflagging story; he rode nearly every 
ship in the Gulf and served in virtually every 
press pool, including the very first with the 

Pyle watched the increased harassment 
with great interest, fully aware that the Un- 
ited States had escalated the operation and 
of the likelihood of more military confronta- 
tion. He rode on the Roberts with Rinn dur- 
ing his long night tracking the Iranian frig- 
ate. "I could not believe what this guy Rinn 
was doing. He must have scared the hell out 
of that Iranian ship!" In an interview with 
him in his stateroom, Rinn said, "We are go- 
ing to follow him. He'll know we are there 
and we are going to make him think that we 
know where he is and what he is doing all the 
time. It's a psychological operation." Wheth- 
er the Iranians were intimidated, however, 
was a different story. 

As the United States tracked Iran's 
boats, the Iranian military was doing the 
same to the U.S. Navy. The Revolutionary 
Guard noticed a seam in the American sur- 
veillance scheme: the area in the south-cent- 
ral Gulf. In the summer of 1987, Bernsen had 
recommended stationing the Guadalcanal 
there to provide surveillance, but this had 
been denied. Less had tried to cover it by sta- 
tioning warships and overflights of the P-3S 
operating from Saudi Arabia, but they could 
not be maintained continuously. Iran noticed 
an opening as the U.S. ships were pulled to 
the north and south on various duties, leav- 
ing a momentary window of opportunity. 
When Iranian forces on Rostam and Sassan 
confirmed the dearth of U.S. forces, they de- 
cided to act. For the first time in five months, 
Iran gambled with the invisible hand. 

Following a meeting with senior military 
leaders in Tehran, on April 12 the Iranian 

ship Charak sailed from Bandar Abbas 
without fanfare. A small vessel at thirteen 
hundred tons and two hundred feet long, she 
had been designed as a lighter or support 
ship, with a wide, flat open area running 
from the bow back to the bridge and super- 
structure near the stern. She had a comple- 
ment of around twenty, not counting a small 
fanatical Revolutionary Guard detachment. 
After a brief stop at Abu Musa Island for 
some last-minute instructions, Charak 
headed off west past the Iranian oil plat- 
forms manned by other Iranian guards: Sirri, 
Sassan, and Rostam. A four-engine, 
American-made Iranian P-3 flew the route 
that afternoon, providing some intelligence 
on U.S. ship positions, relaying it back to 
Abu Musa. On the night of April 13, the 
Charak discharged her duties. In a location 
where shoals forced the tanker route into a 
channel, the Iranian ship aligned herself 
with a navigation light on the horizon. 

Extinguishing her navigation lights, she 
sailed in the blackness. One officer had a 
stopwatch in his hand, while others method- 
ically fused the black spherical objects ar- 
ranged on top of the flat open deck hatch and 
carefully rolled them to the edge of a plank 
protruding off the side. Twelve mines fell 
over the side; unlike the Iran Ajr, the mines 
were arrayed in a circular pattern, designed 
to saturate the area and increase the chances 
of finding a target. Either that night or the 
next, the Charak or her sister, the Souru, un- 
dertook a similar mission some sixty miles to 
the southeast along an old Earnest Will 
tanker track that had not been used for sev- 
eral convoys. 

wn the afternoon of April 14, Captain 
Rinn was down in his cabin and, in a good- 
natured way, berating his cook, Chief Petty 
Officer Kevin Ford, for having too much 

spinach on the menu. Ford was planning a 
steak and lobster dinner the next night, com- 
plete with a side dish of spinach. This veget- 
able choice had become a matter of some de- 
bate on the ship, and Rinn had been reading 
the numerous complaints dropped in the 
ship's suggestion box about an overabund- 
ance of spinach. "No more spinach, Ford!" 
Rinn exclaimed. 

Suddenly, a pronounced shudder ran 
through the ship. The Roberts slowed down 
precipitously. Immediately the phone rang in 
his cabin. It was the officer of the day, Lieu- 
tenant Robert Firehammer, Jr.: "Sir, I think 
we're coming into a minefield." 

The forward lookout was a young boat- 
swain's mate named Bobby Gibson. He had 
been on the bow watch for about an hour, 
sitting in the bolted metal chair watching 
dolphins repeatedly dive before the Roberts's 
wake, anticipating a beautiful sunset on a 
warm afternoon with a calm sea and light 

breeze. At 4:39 p.m., he saw what at first he 
thought were three dolphins— only these 
"weren't going back under water." Grabbing 
his binoculars, he could clearly see spikes 
sticking out from the black cylindrical ob- 
jects, the sun glinting off their freshly 
painted metal skins. He immediately soun- 
ded the alarm. 11 

Rinn remained skeptical. The Roberts, as 
every other ship in the Gulf, had had its run- 
ins with a host of minelike objects: garbage 
bags, empty oil drums, dead sheep. This, he 
thought, would be one more piece of Persian 
Gulf trash. But as it warranted his presence 
on the bridge and was clearly a higher prior- 
ity than spinach, he replied, "Okay, I'll be 
right up." 

As Rinn arrived on the bridge, Fireham- 
mer explained that the forward lookout had 
spotted mines. Rinn grabbed some binocu- 
lars and took a look for himself, immediately 
spotting three dark objects floating on the 

surface, two directly in front of the ship and 
one only three hundred to four hundred 
yards off the starboard side of the ship. 
"Shit!" he exclaimed. "Those are mines!" 

Rather than proceed, Rinn thought, per- 
haps the ship could simply retrace her steps, 
so to speak, and reverse engines and back 
out along the ship's wake, which remained 
clearly visible off to the horizon in the blue 
Gulf waters. "Having just sailed along that 
track," Rinn thought, "it should be free of 
mines." The captain got on the ship's inter- 
com and said, "We've got mines in front of 
us. We are going to general quarters, but be 
quiet; I don't want all the noise. Check to see 
that condition zebra is set and then I want 
everyone who can be spared up above the 
main deck." This would ensure that all the 
doors and hatches below were secure, and if 
they did hit a mine, he wanted no unneces- 
sary crewmen below deck. He then ordered 
the Roberts's Lamps helicopter to get 

airborne immediately to serve as a spotter. 
With his executive officer, Lieutenant Com- 
mander John Eckelberry, looking on from 
the port bridge wing, Rinn posted lookouts 
on the four corners of the ship. 

The Roberts slowly began retracing its 
path in a straight line, with Captain Rinn on 
the starboard bridge wing carefully monitor- 
ing the proceedings. 12 Ten, then fifteen 
minutes passed. "So far so good," Rinn 
thought to himself. But maneuvering a 
4,000-ton, 450-foot-long ship backward 
along a straight line is easier said than done. 
She veered just slightly off her wake. 

Suddenly the air was ripped by the loudest 
explosion Rinn or anyone else aboard had 
ever heard. The force of the explosion lifted 
the entire aft end of the ship out of the water 
some ten feet, forcing the bow nearly under- 
water. As the bow jerked back up, it catapul- 
ted Bobby Gibson, who did a complete 
somersault, landing in a sitting position all 

the way back at the missile launcher. The 
force of the blast sent Rinn and most of the 
crew sprawling on the deck, breaking Rinn's 
foot from the impact. 

A mine had detonated on the ship's aft 
end, just between the 76-mm gun magazine 
and the torpedo magazine, blowing a twenty- 
two-foot hole into the port side and immedi- 
ately sending two thousand tons of water 

pouring into the Roberts. m The force of the 
blast knocked the ship's two gas turbine en- 
gines from their mountings and hurled ma- 
chinery upward with crushing force into the 
deck above. Two ten-thousand-gallon fuel oil 
tanks ruptured, sending fuel into one of the 
engines, which immediately ignited, shoot- 
ing a huge fireball up through the 
smokestack, mushrooming some 150 feet in 
the air. The main engine room flooded im- 
mediately, and in minutes so did the space 
just aft. M Within minutes enough water to 
fill a tennis court some sixteen feet high had 

poured into the ship. Power began to fail as 

smoke and fire spread rapidly. 15 

As debris rained down from the explosion, 
the crewmen immediately responded and 
ran to their damage-control stations to deal 
with the crisis. The forward lookout, Bobby 
Gibson, leaped up and ran to his assigned 
station. He hooked up the fire hose before he 
started complaining that his back was hurt- 
ing him— a natural feeling for someone with 
three broken vertebrae. 

At this point Eckelberry walked up to Rinn 
and said, "Sir, you remember your last pro- 
motion?" "What the hell does that have to do 
with anything?" Rinn responded, with irrita- 
tion in his voice. "Well," Eckelberry replied, 
"it looks like it will be just that!" Rinn could 
only chuckle at the attempt to maintain lev- 
ity in the most dire of circumstances. 

rleroes abounded on board the Roberts 
that day, including one unlikely seaman 
named Michael Tilley. Born in Missouri, he'd 
enlisted in the navy in 1984 and was as- 
signed to the Samuel B. Roberts upon her 
commissioning. Petty Officer Tilley worked 
hard, but trouble seemed to follow him. 
Shortly after joining the crew, he was caught 
for underage drinking using a fake ID card. 
This led to his first captain's mast, involving 
a loss of pay and being placed on restriction. 
When the Roberts made a port visit in the 
Caribbean during her predeployment 
workup, Tilley and others went out to some 
of the local bars. Rather than wait in a long 
line for the bathroom, he decided to relieve 
himself behind a bush, which unfortunately 
stood in front of a large bay window of a 
posh local restaurant. Once again Tilley met 
Captain Rinn. 

But Tilley appealed to Rinn's sense of hu- 
mor. As Tilley worked down in the engineer 
spaces during the night shift, he dropped a 
note in the ship's suggestion box: "I never 
see the light of day. Can't you put a porthole 
in engineer spaces so I can see the sunlight?" 

Rinn's executive officer and senior enlisted 
chief petty officer recommended getting rid 
of Tilley. When he appeared before Rinn for 
his third captain's mast, Tilley just threw 
himself at Rinn's mercy. "Sir, please don't 
throw me out," he pleaded. "The navy's all I 

got."— For a captain not known to tolerate 
discipline infractions, Rinn decided to let 
him stay, over the objections of his senior 
leadership. "After that," Rinn remarked, "Til- 
ley busted his butt and kept his space near 
the engineering room immaculate." 

When Captain Rinn had passed the word 
for the crew to come above decks and the 
Roberts proceeded to back out of the mine 
danger area, Tilley had stayed below in his 

work space. As he said to Rinn later, "You 
had given me so many breaks. I thought you 
needed me to stay down there." It was a de- 
cision that proved critical. 

When the mine exploded, the resulting 
flooding and fire destroyed three of the 
Roberts's four diesel engines required to 
keep power for the ship's pumps. The fourth 
had a cracked governor, and that knocked it 
off-line. As the crew fought to save the 
stricken ship, the lights began to flicker on 
and off as the power began to fail, finally go- 
ing black as power ceased throughout the 
ship. Rinn knew that without power, he 
would lose his ship. 

Trapped below deck, Tilley realized the 
predicament. He and two other sailors went 
down to check the diesel generators. One was 
damaged beyond repair, but the other 
seemed to be in good shape. With no power, 
the electric start button was useless. The 
only alternative was to execute what sailors 

refer to as a "suicide start." This is a manual 
start of the engine whereby high -pressure air 
is released straight into a start engine. Then, 
with the push of a button, the air is forced in- 
to the governor, somewhat akin to jump- 
starting a car by popping the clutch while the 
vehicle is rolling. It's earned its nickname be- 
cause if it does not work, the engine will fly 
apart, showering the area with metal frag- 
ments. Tilley agreed to try the suicide start, 
and lowered himself into the confined room 
housing the generator. Complicating his 
work, the governor turned out to be cracked, 
forcing Tilley to climb onto the engine and 
manipulate it with a screwdriver. With a 
blast of air rushing by his face, the engine 
came to life. Amazingly, the jury-rigged pro- 
cess worked and the engine settled into its 
normal rhythm. With power, the crew had a 

fighting chance. 12 Suddenly, the lights came 
back on and desperately needed electricity 
surged throughout the ship. How or why, no 

one knew, but Rinn was thankful for this 

In the main engine room, Chief Petty Of- 
ficer Alex Perez had been climbing up a lad- 
der from the keel area when the explosion 
hit, blowing the ladder off its frame and trap- 
ping him beneath deck plates just above the 
two engines in a rapidly flooding compart- 
ment. When a firefighting team arrived, they 
found him clinging to the grates, with water 
up to his chest. They immediately passed 
him a wrench to try to loosen the bolts that 
held the plates on. They were located under- 
neath the plate itself, but despite his efforts, 
they would not budge. Finally one of the sail- 
ors climbed over some debris and lowered a 
battle lantern into the water. 

"Can you see the light?" he asked Perez. 
"Yes." "Well, you got to swim to it or you're 
going to drown." Perez swam some twelve 
feet to where the battle lantern dangled in 
the water, and several sailors immediately 

grabbed him by both his hair and his shirt 
and pulled him to safety. Perez walked out 
and then collapsed with serious injuries. He 
was taken along with the other seriously in- 
jured to a makeshift aid station in the heli- 
copter hangar. 

At five thirty p.m.— some forty-five 
minutes after striking the mine— Rinn talked 
to Less with his second update: "Admiral, the 
ship is sinking at the rate of one foot every 
fifteen minutes. I've got five seriously 
wounded, perhaps more, progressive flood- 
ing, and uncontrolled fires." But, he repor- 
ted, his 76-mm gun was back online and the 

ship could still fight. 18 

Less asked the tough question: "Consider- 
ing your situation, what do you think about 
remaining with the ship? Have you con- 
sidered abandoning ship?" 

"I haven't thought about that at all," Rinn 
replied over the radio. "I have no desire to 
leave the ship. We'll stay with the ship and 

fight it. Right now, I think we can win this 
thing!" Privately, he thought, "We have no 
other choice. In a nutshell, we're in trouble." 
But the thought of his crew leaping into 
shark-infested waters seemed an even worse 

"Roger," Less responded. "Do you have 
anything else to pass?" 

"Roger," Rinn came back in a resolute 

tone. "No higher honor!" 12 

It was an amazing moment few listening in 
on the radio would forget. Anger mixed with 
pride as news of Rinn and his actions 
reached Admiral Trost. 

.Delow deck, the crew fought to save the 

ship. The forward bulkhead of the main en- 
gine room adjoined another compartment, 
which began to buckle as water cascaded in, 
threatening to short out the fire pumps. 

Sailors worked feverishly to shore up the col- 
lapsing bulkhead, using their clothes to plug 
holes and stop the flooding. Six men, includ- 
ing the cook, a radio operator, and regular 
deckhands, worked to stave off the flooding, 
shedding most of their clothing to stuff in the 
cracks in the aluminum wall. Rinn came 
down to assess the problem and immediately 
realized the gravity of the situation. If these 
men failed, the ship would be lost. 

He gathered the men together, now 
clothed only in their underwear, and said, 
"Let me tell you— you have got to save this 
space. We've got two main spaces flooded, 
and the ship can't afford to lose a third. You 
have got to save that bulkhead, and if you 

don't, you're going to die right here."— 

They all understood. "No problem, sir," 
Kevin Ford, the cook, answered. Someone 
then brought out a boom box and popped in 
a tape of the group Journey, and the men 
again set to work shoring up the bulkhead 

with wood support and patching holes with 
anything they could get their hands on. Rinn 
went back up topside. In his mind, Rinn had 
his doubts; he left the space privately believ- 
ing that he would never see those men alive 

As darkness fell at six thirty p.m., the first 
outside help arrived for the stricken frigate. 
A U.S. Marine CH-46 Sea Knight arrived 
from the Trenton to evacuate the wounded, 
including four who had to be rushed to Sal- 
maniya Hospital in Bahrain. One, Petty Of- 
ficer David Burbine, had burns over 70 per- 
cent of his body. Additional fire hoses and 
much-needed water arrived for the parched 
crewmen (the damage had knocked out the 

Roberts's ability to make freshwater).— The 
helicopter returned, bringing in equipment 
and welders to help seal the cracks that had 
essentially split the ship in half. Her keel had 
been broken, and only the main deck held 

the Samuel B. Roberts together.— 

By seven p.m. the fire had been extin- 
guished in the main engineering spaces, but 
it raged in a space just above. As a precau- 
tion, Rinn ordered half the 76-mm ammuni- 
tion and the missiles in the associated 
magazine emptied and thrown overboard. 
Unfortunately, one bright young sailor de- 
cided to throw a magnesium flare over the 
side right into the ammunition bobbing in 
the water next to the ship. Astounded and 
very much annoyed, Rinn asked him, "Why 
did you do that?" 

The sailor answered innocently, "I wanted 
to mark where the ammunition was in the 
water. I thought you would want to know 

where it was." 

Rinn just shook his head and mumbled, 
"This is not my day." 

Below deck, the men rose to the challenge. 
Amazingly, through their Herculean efforts 
plugging holes, they kept the bulkhead 

shored up, staving off the loss of the space 
and their own certain deaths. 

While the crew managed to stop the flood- 
ing, water continued to rise at an alarming 
rate. Standing on the flight deck, one could 
literally reach over and touch the water as 
the Roberts continued sinking. With water 
running over his shoes, Rinn concluded that 
the massive amount of water being pumped 
to fight the fire was the cause. The firefight- 
ing efforts were actually sinking the ship. 
"We are doing this to ourselves," he said. 
"We are sinking ourselves." 

Captain Rinn walked up to the bridge and 
said, "Quartermaster, make an entry into the 
log. At 19:05, the captain orders the cessa- 
tion of fighting all fires." 23 

His executive officer, Lieutenant Com- 
mander Eckelberry, went ballistic. He pulled 
Rinn out onto the bridge wing just in time to 
witness a large burst of flame shoot into the 

sky from the center of the ship. "Sir, have 
you gone crazy!" 

"No," Rinn replied. "I'm not worried about 
the fire; it hasn't spread, and with the ammo 
gone, I don't think we are going to blow up. 
But I am worried about what is going on at 
the stern. We are sinking, and if it continues, 
we won't be able to save the ship." 

With that came a reluctant "Aye, aye, sir," 
and the order was passed to stop putting wa- 
ter on the fire. Within thirty minutes the 
sinking stopped and the ship stabilized. 

With the flooding mitigated, the next step 
was to put out a stubborn fire that seemed to 
be sloshing around on top of the firefighting 
foam somewhere above the engine room. 
Lieutenant Gordon Van Hook, the chief en- 
gineer, and Petty Officer Eduardo Segovia 
had, at considerable risk, gone below trying 
to pinpoint the fire's location. Van Hook sug- 
gested they remove the gas turbine engine 
ejection ports— huge metal plates weighing 

several tons each bolted onto the deck— as 
the fire seemed to be located underneath. 
Rinn reluctantly agreed. A team unscrewed 
the large bolts and, using crowbars, pried off 
the plate about three feet. Flames immedi- 
ately shot out some twenty feet high like a 
torch. In a bit of grisly humor, Van Hook 
turned to Rinn and said, "Maybe that wasn't 
such a good idea!" 24 
Rinn cringed and said: "Now you tell me!" 

But Van Hook's assessment had been right 
on. Fire hoses dumped foam into the hole 
and in about two minutes, with a puff of 
white smoke, the fire finally went out. The 
time was eleven fifty p.m., some six hours 
after the initial mine detonation. 

A week or so later, with the Roberts laid 
up at a dry dock at Dubai, Captain Rinn re- 
ceived another note in the crew suggestion 
box from Mike Tilley: "Captain, with regard 
to the request for a porthole in the main 

engineering space, you've exceeded my wild- 
est dreams." 25 

Ihe day of the Roberts misfortune 
dawned unusually cold and blustery in 
Washington. Temperatures reached only to 
the high forties, with a strong breeze cutting 
through the morning commuters, who had 
been forced to break out their winter coats 
once again for this distinctly unspringlike 
day. That morning, the Middle East was not 
on the agenda for the country's leadership. 
Reagan was focused on pending talks with 
Congress regarding an upcoming trade bill 
and on his recent poll numbers. Others, in- 
cluding Colin Powell, William Crowe, and 
George Shultz, were immersed in 

preparation for an upcoming visit by the sec- 
retary of state to the Soviet Union to discuss 
the START arms-control agreement in ad- 
vance of a summit between the superpowers. 
Shortly after hearing news of the Roberts's 
misfortune, Crowe received a call from the 
Saudi ambassador, Prince Bandar. "I'm sorry 
to hear about your frigate," Bandar said in a 
consoling tone. He offered the use of Saudi 
facilities to repair the Roberts. The Saudi 
ambassador added, "Somebody should visit 
Far si." 

At the same time, some nine hundred 
miles south of Washington, General Crist 
met with his "board of directors" at his 
headquarters in Tampa to discuss possible 
retaliation against Iran. General Crist called 
Less to say that if he found the suspected Ira- 
nian ship, "I'll ask permission to sink her." 
But he was anticipating a call from the chair- 
man or the secretary of defense, and he 
wanted to have several courses of action 

ready, from a single target to a large-scale re- 
taliation. "The plan has to be flexible enough 
to respond to any Iranian escalation." The 
most obvious choices, once again, were the 
platforms that sat astride the convoy routes. 
But Crist wanted something bigger. He had 
advocated taking the three-square-mile 
chunk of rock and sand named Abu Musa Is- 
land. Strategically situated within the Gulf 
on the approach to the Strait of Hormuz, it 
was fast becoming a major hub for Revolu- 
tionary Guard Boghammer and small-boat 
attacks, which threatened to seriously under- 
mine the entire American effort.— 

But Crowe had his own idea of what they 
should do. "Get a ship!" he told Crist. Tehran 
had deliberately tried to sink a U.S. warship 
and had very nearly succeeded in doing so. 
The only response, he believed, was to put 
one of Iran's ships on the bottom of the 
ocean. To paraphrase a line from the movie 
The Untouchables: It was the Chicago rules. 

They put one of ours in the hospital; we were 
going to put one of theirs in the morgue. 

Less too wanted to respond aggressively. 
He had a powerful armada with which to re- 
spond. Thirteen naval combatants sat within 
the Gulf or just outside, including two cruis- 
ers and the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise 
with its embarked carrier air wing of some 
sixty combat aircraft. Recently a force of four 
hundred marines arrived on the USS 
Trenton to conduct raids and attacks on Ira- 
nian islands and platforms. Two full SEAL 
platoons were on the two mobile sea bases. 

Less proposed augmenting his navy air 
complement with B-52S from Guam or Diego 
Garcia, which would then fly in toward 
Bandar Abbas from over eastern Iran and 
bomb it from "behind," where Iranian air de- 
fenses were not arrayed. 22 He raised the idea 
of using Tomahawk cruise missiles to hit 
fixed targets such as the Iranian navy 

headquarters at Bandar Abbas.— Less called 

Rear Admiral Guy Zeller, commander of the 
carrier battle group in the Gulf of Oman, 
about possibly striking targets at Bandar Ab- 
bas, especially the naval headquarters and 
port facilities that enabled the Iranian navy 

to operate in the southern Gulf. 22 Zeller met 
with carrier wing commander Captain Bob 
Canepa, an experienced fighter pilot with 
one previous air wing command under his 
belt. He and his deputy, Commander Arthur 
"Bud" Langston, had considerable combat 
experience— Langston with two Distin- 
guished Flying Crosses and more than 270 
combat missions, many over North Viet- 
nam. 32 The carrier crew knew well the tar- 
gets in Iran. They had conducted twenty-sev- 
en exercises targeted at Iranian warships, 
hitting targets such as Silkworm sites around 
the Strait of Hormuz and even dropping air- 
deliverable mines as part of the long-stand- 
ing CENTCOM contingency plans. Extensive 
planning had been done on ordnance 

selection, developing strike packages for over 
twenty different sets of targets around 
Bandar Abbas and all the way up to 
Bushehr. 31 

After receiving Zeller's input, on April 15, 
Less sent Crist a proposal to use aircraft to 
mine the entrance to Bandar Abbas Harbor, 
effectively bottling up the Iranian navy. Less 
also recommended destroying the naval dis- 
trict headquarters building in Bandar Ab- 
bas. 32 Meanwhile, U.S. forces would destroy 
three platforms— Rakhsh, Sirri, and Sas- 
san— in the central and southern Gulf. The 
only apparent complicating factor was that 
Sirri remained an active oil producer, pump- 
ing 180,000 barrels per day. 33 

Early the next morning, the chiefs met in 
the Tank. Crowe explained to the assembled 
brass that there was a consensus within the 
administration to retaliate for the damage 
done to the Roberts, but beyond that 

members of the administration had very dif- 
ferent ideas of just what exactly that should 
entail. With CENTCOM's proposal in hand, 
Crowe told them, "Crist wants heavy retali- 
ation. Carlucci wants no loss of life on either 
side and a very restrained retaliation— little 
more than a couple of platforms." Crowe 
made known in no uncertain terms his own 
feelings that he wanted to sink an Iranian 
ship in response to the mining. One ship in 
particular raised the chairman's ire: the 
Sabalan. Reading reports over the past 
months of the tanker war, he grew increas- 
ingly irritated at the antics of Captain 
Manavi. As a sailor, he was appalled at the 
Iranian's deliberate targeting of crewmen, 
seeming to delight in killing as many as pos- 
sible. Here was a ship and a skipper that de- 
served to be sent speedily to the bottom of 
the ocean. 

Neither Carlucci nor Powell had much en- 
thusiasm for a large attack against Iran, and 

both advocated moderation in the American 
military response. "No one had been killed," 
Powell cautioned during a meeting in the 
White House Situation Room. "We don't 
want to expand this conflict." He brought up 
the possibility of grave environmental dam- 
age to the Gulf should one of the Iranian 
platforms be destroyed and tens of thou- 
sands of gallons of oil spilled into the Gulf. 
Carlucci seemed to agree with his old NSC 
deputy, and expressed an almost obsessive 
concern with avoiding casualties, both Amer- 
ican and Iranian. He insisted that any U.S. 
attack needed to be preceded by a warning, 
allowing enough time for the Iranians to 
abandon their ship or platform. 

Normally cautious during such meetings, 
Admiral Crowe bucked his usual noncom- 
mittal stance and voiced strong objections to 
the line of reasoning being espoused by his 
boss and the general turned national security 
adviser. This time, he argued, they had gone 

too far, and a mere tit-for-tat response was 
not enough: "We have to let Tehran know 
that we are willing to exact a serious price," 
Crowe said, forcefully arguing to sink a ship. 
His logic eventually swayed both Powell and 
Carlucci, and the two agreed on adding a 
ship to the target list. No one, however, sup- 
ported an attack on the Iranian mainland. 
The only condition in which they would at- 
tack Iran proper would be if the Iranians 
launched their Silkworm missiles against 
U.S. ships, at which time all bets would be off 
and the secretary of defense would authorize 
a very strong retaliation. 

Afterward, Powell briefed Reagan. After 
some discussion, the president agreed to the 
recommendations to sink a ship and attack 
the Sirri and Sassan platforms, and if need 
be one other. Should the Charak venture 
out, or whichever ship had laid the mines, 
Crowe said they wanted to sink that as well, 
and Reagan agreed. With the decisions 

made, Reagan flew off that afternoon to 
Camp David in the hills of western Maryland 
for a weekend of horseback riding. 

The meeting adjourned and Crowe's driver 
took him back across the river to the 
Pentagon. Once again, he called Crist in 
Tampa. "I just got back from the White 
House, and they want a combat ship." If the 
Sabalan was at sea, Captain Nasty would be 
sent to the bottom of the Gulf. To drive the 
point home in a conference call that evening 
with Crist, and Less, Crowe ended the con- 
versation addressing Less directly: "Sink the 

Sabalan. Put her on the bottom." 34 

Less's force would form three surface ac- 
tion groups (SAGs), each comprising three 
warships. SAG B would attack the western- 
most target, the Sassan platform. Com- 
manded by Captain James Perkins of the 
navy, it comprised two destroyers plus a 
four-hundred-man marine raid force em- 
barked upon the amphibious ship Trenton. 25 

SAG C would attack the Sirri platform to the 
east of Sassan, commanded by Captain 
David Chandler in the aged cruiser USS 

Wainwright. 3 ^ Due to her enhanced com- 
mand and control suite, the Wainwright 
would also serve as the anti-air warfare 
commander, meaning that any aircraft from 
the Enterprise coming into the Gulf to strike 
a target had to check in with the ship before 
being cleared to attack any target inside the 
Strait of Hormuz. Finally, SAG D, com- 
manded by Captain Don Dyer, comprising 
two destroyers and a frigate, would operate 
in the Strait of Hormuz. It was assigned to 
find and sink the Sabalan. 22 

To provide a cover for the impending at- 
tack, Less's joint task force and CENTCOM 
devised a deception plan to fool the Iranians 
into believing that the buildup of forces in 
the Gulf was merely part of a forthcoming 
Earnest Will convoy. U.S. intelligence sus- 
pected an Iranian mole within the Kuwaiti 

oil ministry. The United States relayed to the 
Kuwaitis a plan to go ahead with a large in- 
bound convoy and to bring some more ships 
into the Gulf to support it, hoping this word 
would get back to Tehran to avert suspicion 
of the true nature of the force buildup. On 
April 17, three combatants detached from 
their carrier and entered the Persian Gulf, 
joining their respective surface action 
groups. Meanwhile, the Enterprise launched 
standard reconnaissance missions over the 
Strait of Hormuz and surface and air patrols 
in the Gulf of Oman, all routine prior to a 
convoy. Whether the Iranians bought the 
ruse, however, remained uncertain. ^ 

Additionally, both CENTCOM and the 
State Department worked channels to get 
Saudi Arabian agreement for AWACS and 
tankers to air-refuel the navy aircraft over 
Oman, which had been included in an agree- 
ment signed the previous year, although 

Muscat's approval was not formally received 

until the operation was already under way. 32 

As U.S. forces positioned themselves, 
American officials were stunned when Iraq 
launched a massive offensive to retake the al- 
Faw Peninsula. Moving their forces at night, 
the Iraqi buildup had gone relatively un- 
noticed in CENTCOM. In an amazing coin- 
cidence, Iraqi forces attacked Iran on land as 

the United States attacked at sea. 4 ^ Iraq 
launched a well-planned attack on the Irani- 
an positions on al-Faw, labeled Ramadan 
Mubarak or Blessed Ramadan. Iraqi artillery 
opened with a short but intense barrage of a 
mix of explosive and chemical munitions. A 
rapidly dissipating, nonpersistent nerve 
agent was used on the Iranian frontline 
troops, while a longer-lasting blistering mus- 
tard gas was dropped on Iranian rear echel- 
on forces. An estimated fifteen hundred 
122-mm rockets filled with nerve agents fell 

in rapid succession on the hapless Iranian 
front lines. 

While one brigade conducted an amphibi- 
ous attack on the southern tip of al-Faw, 
flanking the Iranian positions, two Republic- 
an Guard divisions in chemical protective 
gear simultaneously struck the Iranian posi- 
tions, supported by two regular army divi- 
sions. The Iraq air force finally proved its 
worth; it conducted three hundred sorties 
closely coordinated with the ground forces, 
bombing Iranian command and control, lo- 
gistics, and reserve forces. 

The Iraqi advance was both rapid and 
methodical. Once the lead Republican Guard 
units achieved the breakthrough, a third di- 
vision passed through their lines and pro- 
ceeded to seize the remainder of the penin- 
sula. With a liberal use of chemical weapons, 
including deadly nerve-agent gas, it would 
take only thirty-six hours to overrun the ill- 
equipped Iranian defenders, who died by the 

hundreds, desperately injecting atropine to 
counter the effects of the nerve agent, leaving 
the empty injectors scattered around their 
trenches. 41 Never again would Iran threaten 
Basra or Saddam Hussein's survival. 

The next day, the United States would 
launch its onslaught in the Persian Gulf in an 
operation called Praying Mantis. 


Good-Bye, Captain Nasty 

rveveille sounded shortly after four a.m. 

on April 18, 1988. Nerves and last-minute 
planning had kept most of the men up 
throughout the night. After a traditional 
breakfast of steak and eggs, the marines 
grabbed their weapons and gear and made 
their way down the flight deck, where they 
cued up to load on board four helicopters. At 
seven fifty-five a.m. the Trenton began 
broadcasting in English, Farsi, and Arabic: 
"Gas-oil separation platform Sirri, this is 
U.S. Navy Warship. You have five minutes to 
evacuate your platform. Any actions other 
than evacuation will result in immediate de- 
struction." 1 The marines had arrived in 
February as part of Crist's desire to take 

islands and more platforms in case Washing- 
ton allowed more aggressive actions against 
Iran. It was a compact force of four hundred 
men and eight helicopters embarked on one 
ship, the USS Trenton, commanded by Col- 
onel William Rakow. Before arriving in the 
Persian Gulf, they spent nearly five months 
training for the mission, including working 
with the FBI and civilian oil companies in 
the Gulf of Mexico about how to attack oil 
platforms without causing an environmental 

The Trenton and two other ships of Sur- 
face Action Group B, commanded by Captain 
James Perkins, sat five thousand yards away 
from the Sassan gas-oil separation platform, 
one of the larger ones operated by Iran. It 
comprised seven separate multileveled plat- 
forms, each a maze of pipes, ladders, wells, 
and equipment of every size and variety, all 
linked by catwalks running fifty feet above 
the water. Each served a different functional 

requirement, from crew billeting to pumping 
to one holding four large tanks containing 
deadly hydrogen sulfide gas, commonly re- 
ferred to as sewer gas, an unpleasant natural 
by-product that is separated from the oil and 

natural gas as it is extracted. 2 After the brief 
reprieve from Captain Perkins for the Irani- 
ans to evacuate, the USS Merrill opened fire, 
sending seventy-pound shells hurtling to- 
ward Sassan, where they burst overhead in 
large puffs of black smoke raining red-hot 
metal down on the complex. In response, the 
defenders of Sassan came to life, and the 
twin-barrel antiaircraft gun on the southern- 
most platform returned fire with audible 
pop-pop sounds, sending large high-velocity 
rounds in the direction of the Merrill. All fell 
into the water well short of the warship. The 
navy shells pummeled the gun and the plat- 
form, and the gun went silent as its crew fled 
for the safety of the lower levels or, in the 

case of at least one Iranian, leaped into the 

water to avoid the deadly cascade. 3 

A Marine radio team monitoring Sassan's 
communication with Bandar Abbas learned 
that several Iranian marines— between three 
and six— remained on board to "interdict" 
the Americans in a last, desperate suicidal 
mission. Neither Perkins nor Rakow wanted 
to take any chances. After another fusillade, 
four attack helicopters fired antitank missiles 
into a multistory structure that served as the 
workers' quarters. Then, banking hard, they 
came back raking the facility with 20-mm 
gunfire, starting a small fire on one of the 
catwalks. One of the missiles ignited the 
wood-framed structure, and soon flames en- 
gulfed the entire structure, burning furi- 
ously, sending black smoke high into the air. 

With no more return fire, Rakow sent in 
the marines, who approached in two heli- 
copters fast and low. 4 As the two attack Co- 
bras peppered the target one last time with 

fire, the two twin-engine CH-46S popped 
their noses up slightly and came to a quick 
hover over their assigned platforms, immedi- 
ately dropping a rope off their rear ramps, 
which marines began sliding down. 5 Within 
thirty seconds, each disgorged its passengers 

and quickly pulled away.- The marines im- 
mediately set about clearing their respective 
platforms, covering each other as they 
worked their way from top to bottom 
through a labyrinth of pipes and machinery. 
Captain Thomas Hastings, a smart, charis- 
matic marine with a background in uncon- 
ventional warfare, commanded the assault 

force. 2 Moving gingerly across the smashed 
and broken catwalks, they searched the re- 
maining platforms. Finding no Iranians, 
alive or dead, the marines declared Sassan 
secured shortly after ten a.m. Then one mar- 
ine climbed up a tall radio tower, the highest 
point on Sassan. He fastened the Stars and 
Stripes and, beneath Old Glory, a U.S. 

Marine Corps flag, to the wild cheers of those 
looking on below.- After a couple of hours, a 
marine sergeant set two timed fuses on thir- 
teen hundred pounds of explosives placed 
around the seven platforms and flew back to 
the Trenton. Ten minutes later Sassan erup- 
ted in a massive explosion, briefly obscuring 
the oil facility in a brownish black cloud of 
smoke and debris. 

hile the marines stormed Sassan, oth- 
er navy ships and embarked elite SEALs 
struck the Sirri oil facility. Much smaller, it 
comprised just three platforms connected by 
a long catwalk, with a small natural gas 
burn-off at one end. U.S. intelligence knew of 
at least one crew-served twin heavy antiair- 
craft gun and perhaps ten Revolutionary 

Guardsmen and twenty civilian workers. 3 

The senior commander for this group, SAG 
C, was David Chandler, captain of the large 
cruiser Wainwright; a Southerner, he had an 

easy manner and spoke with a slow drawl. 12 
At six a.m., general quarters sounded on the 
Wainwright. The executive officer, Craig 
Vance, took position on the bridge while 
Captain Chandler took his seat in the combat 
information center (CIC). To his left sat 
Lieutenant Martin Drake, the ship's weapons 
officer, surrounded by the missile and main 

gun control consoles.— At seven fifty-five, 
with a haze hanging over the water, a sailor 
issued the same warnings to the Iranians on 
Sirri as had been given to Sassan, adding, in 
sardonic humor, Captain Nasty's famous 
line: "Have a nice day."— 

Just before eight fifteen, Captain Chandler 
gave the order "batteries release." A rapid 
succession of deafening boom-boom-booms 
followed. Within a minute, twenty-three 
shells burst around Sirri, sending the 

defenders running for cover from the rain of 

shrapnel. 13 Observers on the Wainwright 
could clearly see uniformed Iranians moving 
to man an antiaircraft gun. Chandler called 
off the SEALs and ordered the ships to open 
fire once again. The American warships 
opened up, and the first salvo from the 
Wainwright burst directly over the antiair- 
craft gun, killing two Iranians and wounding 
several others. One of the Wainwright 's next 
rounds exploded near Sirri's main gas separ- 
ation tanks, sending a huge fireball mush- 
rooming into the air, with the ensuing con- 
flagration cooking off ammunition as heavy 
black smoke engulfed the main platform and 
fires spread down to consume the main plat- 
form's lower level. 14 Fatigue-clad soldiers 
leaped into the water while others were in- 
cinerated. As fires raged, setting off second- 
ary explosions, Captain Chandler and senior 
SEALs agreed not to try to occupy the plat- 
form. Instead, the Americans dropped a life 

raft and medical kit to the Iranians in the 
water, six of whom managed to climb in. 
Sirri had been neutralized, but any intelli- 
gence had gone up in the flames. 15 

1 o the east, Captain Donald Dyer's three 
ships of SAG D hovered near Abu Musa Is- 
land. A big man, bald, ever quiet, and 
supremely self-confident, Dyer used the USS 
Jack Williams as his command ship, eager to 
put twenty years of training to work in his 
first combat operation. His mission was to 
find and sink the Sabalan, so Dyer mon- 
itored the intelligence traffic on the ship's 
location. About two a.m. that morning, Cap- 
tain Nasty, Lieutenant Commander Abdollah 
Manavi, had radioed back to headquarters in 
Bandar Abbas that his ship needed to head 
back to port due to a broken freshwater con- 
denser that prevented the ship from making 
palatable water. Dyer had his doubts about 

getting Captain Nasty. "We stirred up a hor- 
net's nest with the Roberts, and they are not 

going to come out," he told his staff.— 

At precisely eight a.m. Dyer's ships never- 
theless headed north toward the Strait of 
Hormuz in search of her quarry. "General 
quarters!" sounded throughout the task 
force. The electronic bong, bong, bong sent 
the sailors scurrying to their battle stations, 
donning their white balaclavas, glove flash 
protectors, and olive-drab helmets. On board 
the command ship Jack Williams, crew hois- 
ted a large battle ensign, and the Stars and 
Stripes snapped straight out in the strong 
wind. The three ships headed in a column 
north at nearly thirty knots, generating great 
white "rooster tails" off their bows as they 
cut through the calm, flat waters of the 

Gulf. 12 As Dyer's ships moved northward to- 
ward the strait, they detected nearly forty 
radar contacts ahead of them: fishing boats, 
dhows, and merchant ships all crowded the 

narrow strait. He ordered a helicopter aloft 
to scout ahead. An hour later, Dyer learned 
that the Sabalan was indeed in Bandar Ab- 
bas, straddled by two tankers, either, as 
some speculated, to protect herself from 
American Harpoon missiles or, more likely, 
to take on needed freshwater due to her 

mechanical problems. Either way, as long 
as Captain Nasty stayed in port, he was safe 
from U.S. attack. A frustrated Dyer contin- 
ued moving north in column, up into the 
traffic separation scheme, where, due to the 
narrows, ships are required to stay in a tight 
two-mile-wide lane either to the right or left 
depending on whether they are entering or 

leaving the Gulf. 12 The ships slowed and 
loitered before turning around and heading 
back south, retracing their steps. 

Shortly after ten a.m., U.S. intelligence 
learned that the Iranian missile boat Joshan, 
about forty nautical miles north of Chand- 
ler's SAG C, had been ordered south to assist 

their forces at Sirri. The French-built missile 
boat had a crew of around thirty. Com- 
manded by Captain Abbas Mallek, the 
Joshan served as an Iranian squadron flag- 
ship at Bushehr and was a near legendary 
boat in the Iranian navy, having executed 
some of the first attacks on Iraq at the outset 
of their war, including an attack on Bagh- 
dad's two offshore oil terminals, briefly 
knocking them out of action. The Joshan 
packed a powerful punch, in the form of the 
only remaining American-made Harpoon 
missile in the Iranian inventory. While no 
one could determine the missile's condition 
or whether it even functioned, its mere exist- 
ence made American commanders nervous. 

As news of the attack on Sirri reached Cap- 
tain Amir Yeganeh, commander of the 1st 
Naval District in Bushehr, he immediately 
ordered Mallek to head south to reinforce 
Sirri. Mallek had just completed an escort of 
an Iranian tanker and was steaming leisurely 

back to her home port of Bushehr. Mallek, 
like his American counterparts, operated un- 
der a set of standing rules of engagement. In 
fact, the Iranian navy was even stricter than 
the United States', specifically prohibiting 
firing first at a U.S. warship. What exactly 
Mallek was supposed to do once he confron- 
ted U.S. warships at Sirri remained ambigu- 
ous, but he ordered his helm hard over, in- 
creased speed, and brought his ship on a 
southerly course toward Sirri and Chandler's 
three ships. 

The Joshan's communication with Bandar 
Abbas was dutifully reported to the Wain- 
wrighfs embarked intelligence detachment, 
whose officer in charge brought the flash 
message to Chandler in the CIC along with 
an intelligence packet about the Joshan, in- 
cluding a profile of her captain. Half an hour 
later, Chandler arrayed his three ships for 
the impending confrontation. 22 He formed 
his flotilla in a line abreast with the 

Wainwright to the west, the Bagley in the 
center, and the Simpson to the east, each 
separated by three nautical miles— close 
enough to maintain visual contact with each 
other but still provide a broad enough elec- 
tronic triangulation to better fix the Joshan's 
location. Heading northeast at twenty-five 
knots, the Wainwright began a broad weav- 
ing movement, zigzagging from side to side 
to make it harder to hit with an incoming 

missile.— Chandler ordered both the 
Simpson and the Wainwright to put a 
surface-to-air missile, a Standard Missile 1, 
or SM-i, up on the missile rails, but set for a 
surface-to-surface mode. The SM-i did not 
pack a large warhead, but was a fast, accur- 
ate missile, capable of supersonic speeds. 
Chandler also sent a helicopter aloft to help 
locate the Joshan.— About half an hour later, 
the helicopter found the missile boat forty 
miles from the three U.S. warships and clos- 
ing fast. 

He relayed this back to Less, requesting 
further guidance. Amazingly, he received an 
unusual order directing him to "warn the 

Joshan away." 23 In an attempt to save Irani- 
an lives, and perhaps unable to comprehend 
that any small patrol boat would single- 
handedly try to take on the full might of the 
U.S. Navy, Less directed Chandler to tell the 
Iranian patrol boat to keep her distance. He 
was caught in the strange condition of being 
between peace and war; this directive meant 
that he should try every means to warn the 
Joshan away. As Captain Chandler later said, 
"I would have shot him at thirty-five miles 
had I not been told to warn him away." The 
Wainwright raised the Iranian boat on the 
standard commercial frequency, and Captain 
Chandler grabbed the microphone: "Iranian 
patrol frigate," he began, giving the boat's 
location, direction, and speed, "this is United 
States Navy warship. Do not interfere with 

my actions. Remain clear or you will be des- 
troyed." 24 

Mallek responded in his heavily accented 
but adequate English. "I am doing my duty," 
he said, adding that he was in international 
waters and "would commit no provocative 
acts." All the while the two forces closed at 
fifty miles an hour. 25 

Tension mounted both on board the Wain- 
wright and up the chain of command. The 
Wainwrighfs weapons officer, Marty Drake, 
could not understand why they did not fire. 
"Sir," he cautioned, "he's got the last remain- 
ing Harpoon." But Chandler still had it in his 
mind that he needed to warn her away, and 
he maintained this even when the Joshan 

locked on with its fire control radar.— 
Listening in over the net back on the Coron- 
ado and in Tampa, Less and Crist grew in- 
creasingly concerned. Less liked the idea of 
giving the Iranians a warning in hopes of 

sparing lives, but after repeated warnings he 
wondered why Chandler had not opened fire. 
General Crist turned to a senior staff officer 
sitting next to him and asked apprehens- 
ively, "Why doesn't he just blow him out of 
the water?" 

Finally, with only thirteen miles separating 
the two forces— close enough for the 
Joshan's captain to see the Wainwrighfs 
mast peeking just above the hori- 
zon—Chandler issued his fourth and final 
warning to the Joshan: "Stop and abandon 

ship. I intend to sink you." 22 

With this Mallek decided to act. If the 
Americans were going to attack him, he 
would not take the first hit. He launched his 
one Harpoon missile. The U.S. helicopter pi- 
lot looking on shouted into his headset mi- 
crophone, "I see a cloud of white smoke!"— 

"Launch chaff!" Lieutenant Drake yelled. 
It was an unnecessary order, as the petty 

officer charged with the duty had already 
pushed the button, sending a plume of alu- 
minum strips into the air. At the same time, 
the crew initiated electronic countermeas- 
ures to jam the Joshan's radar. 22 Chandler 
immediately ordered his ships to open fire. 
The Simpson sent a missile streaking back, 
low and arrow-straight toward the Joshan, 
leaving a slight trail of white smoke. Onlook- 
ers standing on her bridge wings to watch 
the missile launch scrambled to get back in 
the ship as the missile left the rail with a 
deafening roar, coating some with a powdery 

residue. 32 

The Iranian Harpoon caught the Wain- 
wright off guard. Her fire control radar had 
been set in surface-to-surface mode and, 
perhaps spoofed by all the chaff in the air, 
had difficulty switching to fixing onto the in- 
coming missile. Drake tried to engage the 
missile with the ship's main self-defense sys- 
tem, the 20-mm antimissile weapon, but it 

would not engage as it was blocked by the 
captain's gig. In keeping with standard pro- 
cedures, the Wainwright's executive officer 
on the bridge ordered, "Turn to port!" to un- 
mask her full complement of weapons. 

To the amazement of everyone, Chandler 
countermanded the order, keeping the 
Wainwright with her bow essentially poin- 
ted straight toward the incoming missile. It 
was a gutsy call. Chandler surmised that, 
with his weapons out of position, it was bet- 
ter to keep a narrow profile toward the Har- 
poon, placing his faith in the ship's chaff and 
electronic countermeasures to throw off the 
missile's seeker. 31 The crew braced for im- 
pact, many instinctively bending over and 
putting their heads between their legs, 
mouths opened and legs crossed— just as 
they had been taught during training 

With a rumble audible to Drake and the 
others inside the ship— something akin to a 

fast-moving train combined with the whoosh 
of a Fourth of July rocket— the Harpoon mis- 
sile raced down the starboard side of the 
cruiser, sending a shudder throughout the 
ship as the watches topside reported an or- 
ange flash fly by the starboard side, barely 

one hundred feet from the Wainwright. 2 ^ 
Captain Chandler's decision to keep his ship 
on a narrow profile had likely saved the ship. 
The U.S. Navy would not make another sim- 
ilar mistake. The Joshan received the full 
might of the American navy. 

With the American countermissiles in- 
bound, Mallek ordered the Joshan hard to 
starboard and fired off his own chaff to try to 
deflect the missile. It may have worked, and 
the Iranian later reported the first incoming 
missile missed the Joshan, impacting the 
water some seventy meters behind his ship. 
His luck would not last. The next missile 
found its mark, hitting the Iranian boat 
squarely, exploding in the boat's engine 

room, leaving the Joshan dead in the water. 
The blast severely injured Mallek, severing 
one of his legs. The next missile blew away 
superstructure, tossing Mallek and other 

crewmen overboard. 33 The Wainwright ad- 
ded a missile of her own, and it too slammed 

into the hapless patrol boat. 34 Following yet 
one more missile, the U.S. helicopter hover- 
ing nearby reported back to the Wainwright: 
"Joshan burning. All superstructure from the 

bridge to the aft end is on fire." 35 In keeping 
with the orders, the Americans steered clear, 
leaving it to the Iranian fishermen to rescue 
the Joshan's survivors. In addition to losing 
his ship, Mallek later reported fifteen 
men— half his crew— had been killed in the 
duel with the Americans. 

W ell over three hours after the United 
States had attacked, the Iranian military 

began to stir, albeit in an uncoordinated and 
piecemeal manner. Iranian military com- 
manders had little information about either 
U.S. intentions or locations. The Revolution- 
ary Guard, the air force, and the navy did not 
cooperate with one another. 

About the time the Joshan sank beneath 
the waves, five Iranian small boats stormed 
out from Abu Musa Island into the neighbor- 
ing United Arab Emirates' Mubarak oil 
fields. They fired rocket-propelled grenades 
at the main production platform, starting a 
fire but inflicting no casualties. Next, they set 
their sights on the hundred-thousand-ton 
Hong Kong-registered tanker York Marine, 
used for oil storage by Dubai, spraying her 
with machine guns and rocket-propelled 
grenades, before turning their anger at the 
seven-hundred-ton American-owned supply 
boat Willie Tide and the small, U.S.-manned 
Panamanian portable drilling rig Scan 

Bay. 2 ^ Their mission complete, the Iranian 

Boghammers returned to Abu Musa for their 
crews to eat, celebrate, and rearm. 

Iranian jets took off out of the airfield at 
Bandar Abbas. The commander of Tactical 
Fighter Base 9, Colonel A. Zowghi, was out- 
matched. Only five of his eleven F-4 fighters 
could fly, and his entire command was dis- 
tracted by grief, having lost a number of pi- 
lots and airmen in an accidental C-130 crash 
three days earlier. Zowghi held out little 
hope for his assignment; he knew the capab- 
ilities of the U.S. Navy, and if Washington 
wanted a fight, his pilots would do their 
duty, but he would be digging more graves. 

The Iranian F-4S scrambled from Bandar 
Abbas and made several attempts to venture 
out over the Persian Gulf. Immediately de- 
tected, U.S. Tomcat fighters were vectored in 
to engage. The Iranian aircraft immediately 
turned back toward the Iranian mainland, 
not wishing to tangle with the U.S. fighters. 
This cat-and-mouse game repeated itself 

several times, but each time the Iranian pi- 
lots turned away or refused to leave the 
safety of the Iranian airspace. 

Finally, one Iranian pilot decided to take 
his chances, and peeled off and headed out 

into the Gulf. 32 Chandler made two attempts 
to warn it away, but as it continued to close 
on his ship, Chandler opened fire with a 
surface-to-air missile. It appeared to miss, so 
Chandler immediately ordered another fired. 
No sooner had the second missile left the rail 
when the F-4 suddenly dropped altitude and 
its airspeed went from five hundred to two 
hundred knots as the Wainwright detected 
"bloom" on her radar, a clear indication of a 

missile detonation. 3 ^ The first missile had in 
fact found its mark, blowing off part of one 
wing and peppering the fuselage with 
shrapnel. The second missile missed, but not 
by much, as the Iranian pilot later reported 
seeing the missile's impact in the water next 
to him. Amazingly, with one engine knocked 

out and his plane in tatters, the pilot re- 
gained control and managed to land his 
stricken aircraft at the Bandar Abbas airport, 
a credit to both a skilled pilot and the hearty 
construction of the American-built 
Phantom. 32 

In the headquarters of the 1st Naval Dis- 
trict at Bandar Abbas, the full magnitude of 
the American attack finally hit the navy com- 
mander, Captain Amir Yeganeh. He decided 
to sortie the bulk of his fleet, including both 
the Sahand and the Sabalan, and possibly a 
third, older, World War II-era U.S.-built 
destroyer. Yeganeh directed the Sahand to 
attack the UAE-owned Saleh oil field, a 
largely automated complex consisting of 
eight platforms manned by only seven em- 
ployees, which lay approximately halfway 
between the Mubarak oil fields where the 
Boghammers had run amok and the Strait of 
Hormuz. 4 ^ Unfortunately for Yeganeh, his 
American opposite learned of his move and 

immediately passed this information down 
to Dyer's force and to the Enterprise battle 

As ordered, at twelve thirty the Sahand got 
under way and headed out from Bandar Ab- 
bas, past an anchorage of rusting junk ships 
and nearby islands, and then out into the 
confined waters of the Strait of Hormuz. The 
Sahand's commanding officer, Captain 
Shahrokhfar, displayed an uncharacteristic 
aggressiveness for his country's naval of- 
ficers, and with orders to attack the econom- 
ic interests of Iraq's supporters, his ship was 
the first to sortie. A U.S. aircraft picked up 
Shahrokhfar's ship as it passed Larak Island, 
making twenty-five knots as it headed for the 

Saleh oil field. 41 

Aboard the Enterprise, news of the Iranian 
fleet's leaving Bandar Abbas was met with 
relief and jubilation. The crews standing by 
all day in the ready room had endured sever- 
al false starts that morning, and frustrated 

pilots began to lose hope that the Iranians 
would ever venture out. When they learned 
that an Iranian ship, likely the Sahand but 
perhaps her sister ship, the Sabalan, had 
been detected rounding Larak Island, Bud 
Langston got his jet and took off to try to 
find the Iranian frigate, as the steam catapult 
of the carrier's flight deck sent his A-6 aloft 
headed for the Strait of Hormuz. 

Tony Less directed Dyer's force to estab- 
lish a blocking position to protect the Saleh 
oil field from the impending Iranian on- 
slaught. General quarters sounded and the 
crew rushed once again to their battle sta- 
tions. Dyer turned his force around again, 
heading north, and arranged his three ships 
in a line abreast, with some five miles separ- 
ating the warships. He put another heli- 
copter up to help fix the location of the Irani- 
an frigate. 

Intelligence about the Iranians' move- 
ments came streaming in, allowing Admiral 

Less to again stay one step ahead to counter 
their moves. The navy had positioned a Farsi 
linguist on an EA-6B to eavesdrop on the 
Iranian Revolutionary Guards, who used 
rather unsophisticated and unencrypted 

handheld radios. 42 All this flowed back into 
an intelligence fusion cell on board the 
Coronado, where officers worked to piece to- 
gether Iranian intentions. This revealed an- 
other impending Iranian Revolutionary 
Guard small-boat attack at the Mubarak oil 

Four aircraft from the USS Enterprise 
were inside the Gulf. The flight consisted of 
two F-14 fighters for top cover and two 
A-6s— designated Lizard 503 and 507— each 
manned by two pilots and armed with an ar- 
ray of missiles and bombs. The lead pilot was 
Lieutenant Commander James Engler. With 
the call sign "Jingles" reflecting his love of 
piano playing, he lacked some of Bud Lang- 
ston's combat experience, but had a deserved 

reputation as a bright officer and a compet- 
ent flight lead; he was also one of the air 
group's more experienced officers. His wing- 
man in Lizard 507 was Lieutenant Paul 
Webb, call sign "Jack" for his no-nonsense, 
"just the facts, ma'am" personality. Dyer re- 
quested that Engler and Webb come down 
toward Abu Musa Island to look for Iranian 
Boghammers who had fired on the UAE oil 

field. 43 

The rules of engagement, however, did not 
allow for preemptive action; U.S. forces were 
allowed to respond only in self-defense. Less 
requested permission to engage the Iranian 
boats. In turn the request went to the White 
House and National Security Adviser Colin 
Powell. He had already called the president 
once, having awakened him at five in the 
morning to report the successful taking of 
Sirri and Sassan. Otherwise, Reagan re- 
mained remarkably disengaged from the 
process, leaving it up to Powell to monitor 

the war. The action requested, however, 
could not be approved by anyone but the 
president. "Let me check," Powell replied. He 
picked up another secure phone and called 
Reagan in the Oval Office. After Powell 
briefly explained the situation, Reagan re- 
sponded without hesitating, "Do it." The en- 
tire process took ten minutes. 44 

The timing could not have been better for 
the Americans. Engler could clearly see four 
white streaks highlighted on the blue water 
below, headed directly toward a nearby UAE 
oil platform. Engler dove down at four hun- 
dred knots and set his sights on the lead of 
the four Boghammers, the one closest to the 
platform. He released two Mk-20 Rockeyes, 
the clamshell-shaped canisters each holding 
247 dart-shaped bomblets designed to det- 
onate on impact. 45 Banking hard, he looked 
back and could clearly see the Rockeyes des- 
cending all around the Boghammer, but 
none found its mark. The Boghammer jerked 

to and fro at fifty miles an hour in a desper- 
ate bid to throw off the Americans, the Irani- 
an occupants looking up anxiously at the two 
American planes circling above. Lieutenant 
Webb tried hitting the small, fast-moving 
speedboat with a five-hundred-pound laser- 
guided bomb. A near impossibility: it landed 
close, but behind the Iranian speedboat, 
sending up a tower of white water but failing 
to damage the boat. Now it was Engler's turn 
again; he came in low and dropped his re- 
maining three Rockeyes. This time at least 
one of the bomblets found its mark, and as 
the A-6 pulled away, the Boghammer sank, 
carrying its occupants down to the bottom of 

the Persian Gulf. 46 

IVleanwhile, Bud Langston's aircraft ar- 
rived over the Strait of Hormuz looking for 
the Iranian frigates headed south out of 

Bandar Abbas. 42 As he described it, "It was 
one of those milk-bowl days, where you 
could see straight down but visibility was ob- 
scured looking off in the distance." Looking 
down, Langston saw the unmistakable white 
wake of a ship. He relayed back, with "90 
percent assurance," that he'd located an Ira- 
nian frigate, five nautical miles southwest of 
Larak Island headed due south at twenty-five 

knots. 42 

To prevent any mistake of attacking the 
wrong ship, Langston put the A-6 down in a 
steep dive and came up behind the frigate. 
Flying fast just above the wave tops, he blew 
down the side of the ship. He could clearly 
see a large number 7 painted near her bow, 
meaning it was in fact the Sahand. As the 
A-6 streaked by, Langston clearly saw large- 
caliber tracer fire from the frigate's 35-mm 
gun and two shoulder-fired missiles 
launched off the stern in his general 

Langston pulled the aircraft up into a 
steep climb and banked away. He called back 
to the carrier, "I've got positive ID on them!" 

"How do you know?" he was asked. 

"Because they fired on me!" 

Langston swung out about fifteen miles 
from the Sahand and armed his Harpoon 
missile. In keeping with Defense Secretary 
Carlucci's requirement to warn the Iranians 
before opening fire, over the open interna- 
tional distress frequency Langston broad- 
cast, "Iranian ship that just fired on U.S. 
Navy A-6, you have five minutes to abandon 
ship." Whether the Iranians heard him is not 
known, but Langston received no response 
and the Sahand continued heading south. 
Langston put his Intruder into a shallow dive 
and launched his Harpoon antiship missiles. 
The missile dropped down, skimming just 
above the water and rapidly covering the dis- 
tance to the Iranian frigate. 

Captain Shahrokhfar never stood a chance. 
The sleek missile slammed into the starboard 
side near the bridge, igniting an inferno in- 
side and sending black smoke billowing into 
the clear blue sky. Then Langston added his 
five-hundred-pound laser-guided bomb, 
which hit amidships on the frigate. 

Back on the carrier, seven more jets 
launched all headed toward the Sahand. Un- 
fortunately, none of the aircraft bothered to 
check in with any of the surface ships. Dyer 
had no idea that Enterprise had launched 
any aircraft. One of the inbound jets was not 
displaying the proper identification friend or 
foe, or IFF, which sends a coded message de- 
noting it as a friendly aircraft. As the plane 
rounded the strait and headed into the Gulf, 
it looked to Dyer's ships menacingly like an 
Iranian aircraft out of Bandar Abbas. 

The captain of the USS Joseph Strauss re- 
quested permission to engage. Her skipper 
was an aggressive officer named Samuel 

Anderson, a forty-four-year-old mustached 
Hawaiian who bore a resemblance to the act- 
or Edward James Olmos. Since taking com- 
mand in June 1986, he'd earned both admir- 
ation and head shakes of amazed disbelief 
from his superiors. Reputedly, on one occa- 
sion when the ship pulled into Sydney Har- 
bor on a port visit, it ran over a Greenpeace 
sailboat. Anderson proudly painted a sail- 
boat with a slash through it on the bridge 
wing. These and similar actions earned him 
the nickname "Slamming Sammy" by an ad- 
miring crew. 42 

Something about the plane just did not 
look right to Dyer, and he held Anderson off 
for the moment. On board the Wainwright, 
Chandler too had his doubts about this in- 
bound aircraft that appeared as a blip on his 
radar screen; he suspected it might be from 
the Enterprise. After consulting with Dyer, 
he decided to hold off Slamming Sammy as 
well. A short time later, the aircraft's IFF was 

finally detected, and everyone breathed a 
sigh of relief knowing they had narrowly 
avoided shooting down one of their own air- 
craft. 52 

Dyer too decided to finish off the Sahand. 
With his three ships in a line abreast some 
twenty miles south of the burning Iranian 
ship, he ordered the Joseph Strauss to put a 
Harpoon of her own into the Sahand. The 
U.S. destroyer slowed to five knots and fell 
out of formation, as Anderson turned the 
ship broadside to unmask his weapons and 
obtain a firing solution. Crewmen on the oth- 
er two ships and the press pool on the Jack 
Williams poured out onto the upper decks to 
catch a glimpse of the impending launch. As 
a CNN camera crew recorded for posterity 
and the evening news, the Strauss sent her 
missile streaking skyward, momentarily cov- 
ering the ship in a white cloud of exhaust. It 
impacted thirty seconds later, blowing a 
large hole in the Sahand's starboard side. 

Two minutes later, the Enterprise aircraft 
began dropping bombs on the hapless Irani- 
an ship. Another missile hit the ship, fol- 
lowed by Langston's adding two thousand- 
pound bombs, one of which hit the ship 

squarely. 51 But the punishment inflicted 
upon the Sahand had only just begun. Her 
captain, wounded with shrapnel and a frac- 
tured leg, ordered the crew to abandon ship. 
They scrambled down into bright orange life 
rafts floating nearby as over the next fifteen 
minutes bombs rained down on the Sahand. 
The unguided "dumb" bombs had as many 
near misses as hits, leading the Sahand's 
captain later to accuse the U.S. pilots of de- 
liberately targeting the survivors in the life 
rafts. While these charges were without mer- 
it, one can only imagine the terror experi- 
enced by captain and crew as they floated 
helplessly with the water erupting in massive 

explosions all around. 52 

The Sahand was wrecked; it listed heavily 
to starboard and fires raged from end to end. 
Pilots detected hot spots along her hull, in- 
dicating uncontrolled fires within. Smoke 
poured out from large gaping holes and fis- 
sures in the hull and deck, which had been 

perforated by the U.S. bombs. 53 

As the aircraft landed back on the carrier, 
the ground crew and the ship's complement 
ecstatically cheered their arrival. "It was like 
the final scene from the movie Top Gun," 

Langston thought. 54 

In the northern Gulf, protecting the two 

mobile sea bases fell to the USS Gary. 55 The 
Gary and the two barges spent most of the 
day at general quarters, but while fighting 
raged to the south, the northern Gulf had 
been quiet thus far. Suddenly she detected a 
Silkworm missile launch on al-Faw some 120 
miles away. Shortly thereafter, her radar de- 
tected the inbound missile. The Gary went to 

full speed, turning hard to unmask her 
weapons, firing off chaff and decoy flares; 
she began firing her 76-mm gun in the direc- 
tion of the missile, still showing on the radar 

screen. 5 ^ Witnesses saw an object pass by the 
Gary, perhaps through the chaff bloom, then 

impact about one mile astern of the frigate. 52 

In the Jack Williams's darkened CIC, Dyer 
listened intently to radio reports from the 
USS Gary of the Silkworm missile headed 
toward the U.S. frigate, mindful of the fact 
that his own ships remained within the Ira- 
nian Silkworm envelope at Qeshm Island. 
Suddenly his ships detected an incoming 
Silkworm missile. Simultaneously, a report 
came in from one of the U.S. aircraft of an 
incoming missile. Dyer ordered the three 
ships to fire chaff and head at flank speed 
south in an attempt to get out of the range of 
the Iranian missiles. The ships accelerated 
repeatedly, sending rockets aloft that ex- 
ploded with the sound of firecrackers in 

white puffs, seeding the skies with magnetic 

A minute later, the lookouts on the deck of 
the Jack Williams suddenly got everyone's 
attention: "Missile inbound, port quarter!" 
With the late afternoon sun low on the hori- 
zon, casting a golden glow over the calm blue 
water, the embarked CNN camera panned 
around to the port side and captured a bright 
glow low in the near distance. One of the em- 
barked Stinger missile teams briefly locked 
on to the inbound missile, but could not hold 
the target. Lookouts topside ducked down, 
shouting a few expletives as the missile 
streaked by aft of the ship's stern. Witnesses 
reported it striking a platform in the dis- 
tance, clearly visible in the golden light of the 
setting sun. 

At this moment, Dyer's ships detected 
radar emissions from an Iranian four-engine 
C-130 twenty-five miles away. Fearing the 
aircraft might provide targeting data on U.S. 

ships for the Silkworm sites, Dyer ordered 
Captain Anderson to engage the Iranian air- 
craft. Just as the Jack Williams dodged its 
missile, Anderson wheeled his ship about to 
close the distance with the Iranian C aircraft. 
The Joseph Strauss sent five surface-to-air 
missiles in quick succession streaking into 
the sky toward the Iranian airplane. One 
missile malfunctioned and deviated from its 
flight path. Anderson ordered it destroyed in 
flight, filling the blue sky with long white 
streaks as its pieces rained down on the Gulf 
waters below. But each thrust by Anderson 
was parried by a lumbering four-engine air- 
craft whose skilled pilot managed to keep his 
aircraft just beyond death's grasp. 

"Enough of this bullshit," Dyer said, as he 
ordered one of the F-14S to close and take 
care of the problem. The C-130's pilot evid- 
ently decided not to push his luck and exited 
the Gulf, likely flying back over the Iranian 

rlaving sunk the Sahand and dis- 
patched the Boghammers, Engler's and 
Webb's planes topped off with fuel from an 
air force tanker over Oman and went looking 
for some reported Boghammers, which 
turned out to be only fishing boats. Dyer re- 
quested that they head up near Larak Island 
to look for the Sabalan. Looking through the 
black-and-white images displayed on his air- 
craft's radar, he and his wingman investig- 
ated an endless string of contacts, from 
junked vessels to fishing dhows that per- 
vaded the Gulf waters southeast of Qeshm 

At four thirty p.m., Captain Nasty finally 
came out to fight. Engler and Webb immedi- 
ately closed in to attack. 53 The Sabalan saw 
the approaching American aircraft and fired 
a surface-to-air missile (likely a shoulder- 
launched SA-7) at Engler's A-6. It never 

came close, but Webb radioed back that they 
had been fired upon. Each A-6 still carried a 
Harpoon surface-to-surface missile. 
However, Larak Island silhouetted the 
Sabalan, and Engler feared that the Har- 
poon might not track with this background 
clutter, leading to the missile's inadvertently 
hitting the Iranian mainland. He reluctantly 
decided against using his Harpoons— a de- 
cision he would later lament. This left Engler 
with a single five-hundred-pound laser- 
guided bomb with which to dispatch the Ira- 
nian frigate. 52 

Engler pushed his yoke forward and put 
his plane into a steep dive. His bombardier, 
Lieutenant Mark Herath, released their one 
laser-guided bomb, which went straight 
down the Sabalan's smokestack. The bomb 
exploded deep inside the ship's engineering 
spaces, giving the appearance of the ship 
"belching," followed by plumes of heavy 
black smoke and a large oil slick on the 

surrounding water. The Sabalan's captain, 
Abdollah Manavi, radioed over the interna- 
tional radio channel in heavily accented Eng- 
lish, his voice near hysterical, "I'm sinking! 
I'm sinking! Send help!" For a man who had 
deliberately inflicted so much misery upon 
defenseless merchant seamen, it seemed 

With the Sabalan dead in the water and no 
other effective ordnance, Engler and Webb 
reluctantly headed back to the carrier. Back 
on the Enterprise, the crew began spinning 
up another strike package to finish off the 
Sabalan and to address a new intelligence 
report of a third Iranian frigate getting under 
way at Bandar Abbas. The flight deck hur- 
riedly began bringing up more munitions, 
and two more aircraft were readied. With the 
main target of Operation Praying Mantis 
now immobilized, the U.S. commanders 
itched to finish her off. Less called Zeller and 
asked how long before they could get aircraft 

back up to finish off the Sabalan. Zeller re- 
sponded that it would take time, perhaps an 
hour. As the Sabalan had been attacked out 
of "self-defense," this long delay stretched 
the intent of the rules of engagement. Gener- 
al Crist picked up the open phone and talked 
to Crowe. "It would be nice to sink her," he 
told Crowe, "but it's hard to say it's self-de- 
fense at this point." 

Secretary of Defense Frank Carlucci had 
left the Pentagon for a morning swim in the 
small pool of the dingy labyrinth of the 
Pentagon gym. A brigadier general came 
down to grab him, and Carlucci quickly ar- 
rived back in command center. 

Crowe updated him on the situation. 
"We've got the Sabalan dead in the water 
and planes circling overhead. What do you 

Carlucci replied, "Well, what do you 
think?" Crowe, who had pushed to specific- 
ally target the Sabalan, responded, "Mr. 

Secretary, I think we've shed enough blood 
today." Carlucci, who had always wanted to 
keep casualties to a minimum, nodded his 
head. "I agree with you. Tell the planes not to 
attack."— A tug and then the Iranian lighter 
Chiroo took the Sabalan under tow back to 
Bandar Abbas, and removed her many 

ust before sunset, Less picked up the 
radio and called Rakow over on the Trenton, 
ordering him to dispatch two of his Cobras 
over to the Wainwright to provide Chandler 
with some helicopter gunships in case the 
Iranians staged a small-boat attack during 
the night. Rakow and his air officer Lieuten- 
ant Colonel Larry Outlaw strenuously objec- 
ted. His pilots, he argued, had been flying for 
nearly twelve hours; most had not slept the 
night before. They were exhausted. But the 
order stood, and Outlaw dispatched his 

executive officer and one of his best pilots, 
Lieutenant Colonel David Dunkelberger, 
along with Captains Stephen C. Leslie and 
Kenneth W. Hill. 

The two sleek gray Cobra helicopters ar- 
rived over the flight deck of the Wainwright 
well after sunset. Dunkelberger was lowest 
on fuel so he went in first, landing on the 
small aft flight deck. As his rotor came to a 
gradual stop, the crew moved it into the air- 
craft hangar to make room for his partner, 
dogging down the Cobra with hooks and 
metal wire. 

The Wainwright 's radar suddenly detec- 
ted a ship directly off the bow some fifteen 
miles distant. It appeared to be the Iranian 
logistics ship Larak, certainly capable of lay- 
ing mines or other mischief. Chandler asked 
if Leslie and Hill would investigate. The Co- 
bra moved swiftly away, the distinctive 
whop-whop sound of its rotors fading away 
into darkness. Suddenly, a brief voice from 

one of the pilots broke in over the radio net: 
"Radar lock on!" Whether it was Iranian or 
American remains unclear, but Leslie 
banked his Cobra hard, taking it down low to 
the water in a sudden maneuver intended to 
evade an inbound missile. But on night-vis- 
ion goggles, depth perception flattens; over 
water, the horizon blurs with the water in a 
green hue. Even the most experienced Army 
Special Forces pilot found it challenging, and 
neither Leslie nor Hill was up to that level of 
night flying experience. The fast-moving 
twin-blade Cobra slammed into the ocean, 
killing both pilots instantly. 

As night settled in over the Gulf, Less 
ordered the three surface action groups 
south, away from the Iranians into a more 
defensive stance. Crist called Crowe to 
provide him an update. Numerous small 
boats manned by the Revolutionary Guard 
seemed to be poised to attack the next day. 

He added, "I think tomorrow may be a tough 


But the Iranians did not attack. April 18 
proved costly to Iran, with nearly sixty Irani- 
ans killed and more than one hundred 
wounded. In the two days following Praying 
Mantis, tension remained high, but Iran kept 
its remaining boats safely in harbor and the 
Revolutionary Guard showed little interest in 
tangling again with the United States. On 
April 20, four Iranian boats from Bushehr 
closed on the two northern mobile sea bases, 
but they turned away and headed back to- 
ward Farsi. 

The navy commissioned a team to look at 
the Silkworm missile firing. While the team 
suspected that Iran had fired one in the 
northern Gulf as Iraqi forces were overrun- 
ning the battery, the analysts found no evid- 
ence of any missile having been fired in the 
southern Gulf at Dyer's forces. The Silkworm 
reconstruction team summed it up as radar 

anomalies, false reporting, and errant mis- 
siles from Sammy Anderson's attack on the 
C-130. When asked about the lack of evid- 
ence of Silkworms being fired at his ships, 
Dyer quipped, "Well, whatever it was, it was 
big and fast and came from Iran." 

Shortly after the fighting, General Crist 
wrote to the secretary of defense: "The proof 
of the planning was in the pudding, and we 
dined rather well on the 18th." Praying 
Mantis was an unqualified success for the 
United States. In addition to the material 
damage done, it greatly reduced the Iranian 
navy as a major threat to tanker traffic. At- 
tacks by Revolutionary Guards in speedboats 
ceased for the next month. The combination 
of the disaster of Praying Mantis and the 
ease of the Iraqi recapture of al-Faw stunned 
Tehran. The Revolutionary Guards 
defending al-Faw had not simply been de- 
feated; they had collapsed. An examination 
of their positions after the battle revealed 

that many had fled from the moment of the 
first Iraqi assault. Hashemi Rafsanjani said 
afterward that Iran could not stand up to 
both the United States and Iraq, and time 
was no longer on the side of Iran. Iran later 
accused the United States of ferrying Iraqi 
troops to al-Faw; though it was untrue, 

Tehran believed it. 

After the fight, Less met with the emir of 
Bahrain. "The Iranians don't understand 
anything but power," the royal leader told 
him. "Next time give it to them one thousand 
times harder!" As it turned out, Iran would 
not need another beating. The ayatollah was 
about to fold. 


The Terrible Climax 

L/onspiracy theories abound in the 

Middle East in part because there frequently 
are so many conspiracies. To leaders sitting 
in Tehran, the seemingly combined Americ- 
an and Iraqi offensives on al-Faw and in the 
Persian Gulf reinforced their long-held opin- 
ion of collusion between their two enemies. 
The accurate Iraqi attack and newfound pro- 
ficiency of Saddam Hussein's army all 
showed the handiwork of the Great Satan. 
American spies appeared everywhere. Iran 
had uncovered the CIA's paramilitary 
schemes, and a spy in their military had 
compromised the punitive attack on Saudi 
Arabia. New American-led efforts had made 
it increasingly difficult for Iran to purchase 

weapons and spare parts for its American- 
made equipment. Heavily in debt and its 
economy in shambles, Iran had been pushed 
to the breaking point by the combined force 
of Iraq and America. The war was nearing a 
tragic climax, and neither side would emerge 

1 he Pentagon's own intelligence organ- 
ization is housed in a massive gray building- 
block-shaped structure at Boiling Air Force 
Base, across the Potomac River from the 
Pentagon. The Defense Intelligence Agency 
reports to the secretary of defense and fo- 
cuses its intelligence collection on foreign 
military forces, working in tandem with its 
sometime rival at Langley. In the mid-1980s, 
Colonel Walter Patrick Lang headed the 
DIA's Middle East and South Asia section. 
An Army Special Forces officer who served 
two tours in Vietnam, Lang transitioned to 

become a foreign-area officer, studying the 
Middle East and becoming the first Arabic 
studies professor at West Point. A skilled in- 
telligence officer, he eventually rose to be- 
come the first director of the Defense Hu- 
man Intelligence Service, which controlled 
all the Pentagon's own spies. Pat Lang was 
an opinionated contrarian, especially regard- 
ing the Middle East. Acquaintances viewed 
him as too cynical to be a true Arabist. A fre- 
quent critic of Israeli actions, he had no great 
regard for Iran either, having found the Ira- 
nian students he met around the commons 
while in graduate school at the University of 
Utah to be pushy and arrogant— a view he 
held of the Islamic Republic's leadership too. 
The Iran-Iraq War consumed much of 
Lang's time as defense intelligence officer for 
the Middle East, and he found himself fre- 
quently called upon to brief senior officials 
on the ebb and flow of the war. At the direc- 
tion of Caspar Weinberger's powerful 

assistant secretary, Richard Armitage, these 
briefings included the close confidant of 
many administrations, Saudi ambassador to 
Washington Prince Bandar bin Sultan. For 
his first meeting with Bandar, Lang traveled 
to the Saudi's sprawling home off Chain 
Bridge Road along the Potomac, lugging a 
case of large classified maps of front lines. 
The two men spread the maps out across the 
floor of Bandar's study, poring over them for 
the next three hours and carefully discussing 
the blue and red symbols that represented 

the armies of Iraq and Iran. 1 

Bandar liked the presentations and discus- 
sions so much that he asked Armitage if 
Lang could give the same talk to Jordan's 
King Hussein. Armitage agreed, and Lang 
quickly found himself on a plane to Amman. 

The king arrived a few minutes late. He 
had been out riding and appeared dressed in 
jeans, checkered shirt, snakeskin cowboy 
boots, and a belt with a large silver rodeo 

buckle in the shape of Texas. They cleared off 
a large marble coffee table, and Lang laid out 
satellite photos and maps and provided a de- 
tailed talk on the current military situation 
along the Iran-Iraq front lines. 

At the end of his formal presentation, King 
Hussein asked, "Is there anything the Iraqis 
could do better— something they could fix?" 

"Well, yes, Your Majesty, there is." Point- 
ing down to the map, he fingered two Iraqi 
units near Basra. "One has its front line on 
the riverbank and the other is deployed half 
a kilometer back. They are not tied in togeth- 
er at all. If Iranian patrols discover this gap, 
they could exploit it and drive right between 
the two divisions." 

"How could they make such a mistake?" 
asked the king. 

"I don't know, but it needs to be corrected 
right away." 

King Hussein turned to the chief of Jord- 
anian intelligence and asked in Arabic, "Can 
you fly to Baghdad and brief our brothers 
about this?" Quickly realizing that Lang un- 
derstood Arabic, a sheepish King Hussein 
asked if they could take the map and brief 
the Iraqis on their ill-disposed army. 

"Sir, my map is your map," answered 
Lang. That afternoon a team of Jordanian of- 
ficers arrived in Baghdad with Lang's map, 
and by the time Lang arrived back in Wash- 
ington, the Iraqis had moved their forces to 
close the vulnerable hole in their front line. 

In early 1988, spurred on by Jordan, 
Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia, the White House 
renewed its help for Iraq. The DIA focused 
on helping the Iraqi air force. Lang estab- 
lished a dozen-man cell, replete with satellite 
imagery interpreters and air force targeting 
officers, near the director's office at the DIA 
building at Boiling Air Force Base. Lang's 
deputy was Major Rick Francona, a Middle 

East air force specialist fluent in Arabic. 
Francona became the point man for working 
with the Iraqis. Lang's team focused on the 
key operational targets behind the Iranian 
front lines whose destruction would upend 
Iran's ability to launch major offensive oper- 
ations. These targets included division and 
corps headquarters, supply dumps, railroad 
bridges, boatyards where the Revolutionary 
Guard stored landing craft, and troop can- 
tonments. The Iranians had no real appreci- 
ation for modern airpower. They carelessly 
built large supply bases far forward to sup- 
port their attacks; most sat out in the open, 
without adequate protection and virtually 
undefended from air, or even artillery, at- 
tacks. Destroying these would scuttle any 
Iranian offensive before it began. Within 
days they had put together twenty target 
packages, each with multiple individual tar- 
gets, to pass on to Baghdad. Each one con- 
sisted of beautiful hand drawings made from 

the satellite photographs, plus maps with the 
locations of nearby Iranian antiaircraft 

weapons. 2 

After receiving approval from both na- 
tions' joint chiefs, Lang and Francona flew 
into Kuwait and drove up to the Iraq border, 
where the U.S. defense attache in Baghdad, 
Colonel David Lemon, and a major in Iraqi 
intelligence greeted them. The Iraqi major 
greeted them warmly. "My orders are to take 
you anywhere you want to go on the way to 
Baghdad." Lang decided to test his sincerity: 
"Okay, I want to see the Iranian front lines 
around Basra." 

The group drove straight up to Basra, end- 
ing at the riverbank near the Sheraton Hotel. 
Lang climbed up a nearby berm to get a bet- 
ter view and could clearly see the Iranian 
trenches in the near distance. After a couple 
of minutes the Iraqi major came up beside 
him. "Sir, the Iranians have seen you by now. 
May I suggest you get back down unless you 

want to die right here." It was sage advice. As 
they drove off, their vehicle was straddled by 
six Iranian artillery shells, exploding uncom- 
fortably close. The Iraqi driver froze in panic, 
his eyes as wide as saucers and hands clutch- 
ing the steering wheel in a death grip. Colon- 
el Lemon reached across and grabbed the 
steering wheel and jammed his foot down on 
the accelerator. They pulled away just in 
time to avoid the next six incoming salvos. 
They arrived at the al-Rashid Hotel in Bagh- 
dad, and both Francona and Lang headed 
straight for the bar. 

Lang and Francona met with a collection 
of Iraqi generals and colonels and briefed 
their proposed targets. As Lang expected, 
they were ecstatic. "We were greeted like 
long-lost brothers, or as the cavalry arrived 
to save the fort." Lang told them, "We are go- 
ing to give these intelligence packages to you. 
We can give you feedback after each strike 
and tell you whether you destroyed it or need 

to hit it again, but it's up to you to prosecute 
these targets— we're not going to do it for 
you. You need to knock them out by your- 
self." 3 

The very next day the Iraqi air force began 
bombing the first of the twenty target sets, 
with the DIA back in Washington looking at 
the imagery following each strike to see what 
effect the Iraqis had achieved. Despite its 
large, modern air force and the United States 
giving the grid coordinates of the Iranian tar- 
gets down to the meter, the Iraqi pilots dis- 
played greater concern for self-preservation 
than for military effectiveness, often drop- 
ping their bombs from too high an altitude 
or simply not even approaching the target. 
As Richard Armitage later observed with 
open disdain, "They weren't very good." But 
with the DIA providing a steady stream of in- 
telligence updates, the Iraqi pilots went back 
again and again, bombing the Iranians until 
they obliterated the bridge or troop 

cantonment, killing hundreds of soldiers and 
seriously disrupting Iran's ability to mount 
any sort of large-scale attack. 

Lang and Francona developed a good rap- 
port with the Iraqis, exchanging ideas for 
new Iranian military nodes to bomb. By the 
time the war ended, in August 1988, the 
Iraqi air force had attacked thirty-five differ- 
ent target arrays provided by the United 
States. America's proxy war against Iran 
proved a remarkable success. 

The defense secretary did not authorize 
Lang to help the Iraqi army, but when asked 
his military opinion by an Iraqi general, 
Lang gave it to him. On numerous visits to 
Baghdad or down to the front as a guest of 
one of the Iraqi Republican Guard divisions, 
over a hot cup of sweet tea, a senior Iraqi 
general would lay a map of the front line on 
the table in front of the army colonel. "We 
are looking at attacking here. What do you 
think of that?" Lang offered suggestions, 

such as attacking the Iranians from an ex- 
posed flank rather than head-on. The Iraqis 
invariably took his advice, and while it did 
not decide the war, the Iraqi Republican 
Guard battered the Iranian army in a series 
of tactical victories. Both Lang and Francona 
became minor celebrities in Iraq, including 
being invited as guests of honor of Saddam's 
elite Hammurabi division. 

Saddam Hussein was justifiably pleased 
with the American intelligence support. In 
payment, the Iraqis provided American intel- 
ligence officers access to dissect the latest 
Soviet tanks and missiles, and Francona was 
invited on a tour of captured Iranian 
trenches where the evidence of Iraqi chemic- 
al weapons littered the ground in the form of 
atropine injectors used by desperate Iranians 
to stave off the horrific effects of nerve gas. 
The U.S. Army analysts produced a detailed 
report on the artillery piece, classified with 
the highly unusual caveat: "Secret/Not 

Releasable to Foreign Countries except 

Iraq." 4 In honor of the United States, Sad- 
dam Hussein named a new Republican 
Guard mechanized division the Tawakalna 
Division, short for Tawakalna ala Allah, or 
"In God We Trust," the motto of the United 
States. The division would be destroyed by 
American airpower three years later during 
Operation Desert Storm. 

Saddam increased the pressure on Iran in 
his normal brutal way. Iraq rained dozens of 
missiles down on Iranian cities, sending at 
least two hundred screaming down into 
Tehran, including eleven in one day. Each 
missile cut a swath of destruction, killing or 
wounding scores of civilians. By the end of 
the war, these attacks had killed or injured 
twelve thousand civilians. The randomness 
of the destruction played on the population's 
fears as the notoriously inaccurate Scud mis- 
siles hit schools, apartment buildings, com- 
muters headed home from work. One 

Iranian living in the United States received a 
letter telling him that the nice old lady down 
the block who used to bake cookies was 
killed when her house took a direct hit from 
an Iraqi missile. Civilians stayed away from 
downtown and government buildings. A 
massive exodus of frightened people fled 
from the city to the countryside. In April and 
May 1988 protests began as people started 
questioning the continuation of the war. This 
led to clashes between police and rock- 
throwing students. One of the demonstra- 
tions occurred following a Scud hit on a hotel 
that killed more than one hundred people 
who had been celebrating a wedding. Pro- 
testers started criticizing Khomeini himself, 
which was unprecedented even after eight 
years of war. 

rvobocruiser had arrived. The USS 
Vincennes was the most sophisticated ship in 

the U.S. Navy. The Ticonderog a-class cruiser 
had been commissioned just three years 
earlier at a cost of more than $1 billion. With 
a crew of about four hundred, she bristled 
with modern weapons, including two 5-inch 
guns and an array of antiair and antiship 
missiles. But the Vincennes's real worth lay 
in her radar. Outfitted with the latest Aegis 
combat system and combined with the ship's 
radar, weapons, and command suite, the 
warship could track and engage dozens of 
surface or air targets simultaneously. As 
early as September 1987, the Pentagon 
pushed to station such an advanced cruiser 
in the Persian Gulf to monitor Iranian activ- 
ity in the congested Strait of Hormuz. The 
chief of naval operations, Admiral Carl Trost, 
had balked at sending such a ship to the 
Gulf, telling Colin Powell, "Why would you 

want to put a diamond in a pigsty?" 5 But 
Weinberger had countered, "What other war 
do you have going on?" He and his successor, 

Frank Carlucci, finally ordered the deploy- 
ment, and USS Vincennes arrived in the Gulf 
a month after the April clash of Operation 
Praying Mantis. 

The commanding officer of the cruiser 
Vincennes, Captain William Rogers, was not 
afraid to sail into harm's way. When his draft 
deferment ended in the mid-1960s, he joined 
the navy, attending officer candidate school 
in Newport, Rhode Island. He had two great 
loves: his wife and the navy. Self-confident 
and aggressive, he wanted to prove the 
mettle of his ship and its advanced Aegis sys- 
tem in combat. When the outgoing officers of 
the Wainwright offered to brief his crew on 
the air picture in the Gulf, "Aegis will sort it 
out" was the dismissive refrain from the 
Vincennes's officers. In keeping with its role 
to control the surveillance of the Strait of 
Hormuz, Rogers's ship took station inside 
the Gulf but well away from the Revolution- 
ary Guard attacks. Disrupting their attacks 

and escorting the convoys fell to the smaller 
frigates and destroyers. This role did not sit 
well with Rogers. He wanted to take a more 
active role in the aggressive shadowing oper- 
ations that Admiral Tony Less had initiated. 
Rogers wrote numerous messages to Less ur- 
ging him to aggressively use the Vincennes 
against the Iranians— to "go into harm's way 
for which she was intended," as he said in 

one message.- Commander David Carlson, 
captain of the USS Sides, which was fre- 
quently located near the Vincennes, com- 
mented of the ship's behavior: "My impres- 
sion was clearly that an atmosphere of re- 
straint was not her long suit." 2 Soon, sailors 
around the Gulf took to calling the Vincennes 
"Robocruiser" for her similarity to the popu- 
lar futuristic movie Robocop, in which a half 
man, half machine cleaned up the streets of a 
crime-plagued city. 

On April 29, 1988, President Reagan 
ordered U.S. forces to broaden the protection 

of vessels in the Gulf. This marked a major 
change in the rules of engagement in the 
Gulf and muddled the clear distinction about 
belligerency. U.S. warships were now free to 
take any action necessary to end an Iranian 
attack in progress, including using deadly 
force, but they could not retaliate for an at- 
tack that had previously occurred. The Irani- 
ans had to be caught in the act. Anticipating 
reporters' questions about whether this con- 
stituted an expansion of the mission or a tilt 
in U.S. neutrality, during a press conference 
announcing the change Carlucci responded 
in his prepared statement: "We are not the 
policemen of the Gulf, nor do we wish to be." 

The truth was somewhat different. 

In June, Iranian military activity increased 
again in the Gulf. The Iraqis continued to 
press the land offensive and intensified their 
air attacks on Iranian oil facilities and ship- 
ping in the northern Persian Gulf. 9 As expec- 
ted, the Iranians retaliated by attacking 

shipping around the Strait of Hormuz. Even 
the Iranian air force came back to life. It shif- 
ted two or three F-14S from Bushehr to a 
joint military-civilian airfield at Bandar Ab- 
bas.— While the F-14 had been designed as a 
fighter jet, Iran had shown a proclivity to im- 
provise, and Less's intelligence section wor- 
ried that Iran might have been able to outfit 

the fighters to drop bombs.— On July 2, the 
USS Halsey warned away two potentially 
hostile Iranian aircraft near the Strait of 

On July 2, the USS Elmer Montgomery re- 
ceived a distress message from the Danish 
ship Karama Maersk, outbound from Saudi 
Arabia. In accordance with the new rules laid 
out by Washington, the Montgomery moved 
to intervene and observed at least three Re- 
volutionary Guard boats shooting at the 

Danish ship. 13 The U.S. vessel fired several 

warning shots at the Iranian speedboats, 
which promptly broke off their attack. 

The next morning, several more Revolu- 
tionary Guards challenged a Pakistani mer- 
chant ship. Less agreed to allow the 
Vincennes helicopter to investigate, but on 
his own volition Rogers moved his ship 
nearly fifty miles north of his assigned sta- 
tion to join the Montgomery. When the des- 
troyer flotilla commander learned about this, 
he ordered Rogers to return to his desig- 
nated station south of Abu Musa Island. But 
the helicopter remained, shadowing a group 
of Revolutionary Guard boats loitering off 
Qeshm Island and well within Iran's territ- 
orial waters. With the Vincennes' 's helicopter 
buzzing overhead, one of the guard boats 
fired off about ten rounds in front of the heli- 
copter—a not uncommon way for the Irani- 
ans to warn away military or civilian heli- 
copters when they approached too close. 

"We are taking fire!" the pilot radioed back 
to the ship. 

With this pretext, Rogers immediately 
turned his ship about and, along with the 
Montgomery, headed back north at more 
than thirty knots to where the Iranian boats 
lay. In doing so, and in violation of the 
standing rules of avoiding Iran's war exclu- 
sion zone, he crossed into Iranian waters, a 
fact dutifully recorded by a military combat 
camera team that happened to be on the 

Vincennes's bridge. 14 

As the two ships closed on the Iranian 
small boats, two of them turned toward the 
approaching American warships; the others, 
according to Rogers, acted erratically and ap- 
peared to be maneuvering to attack him. Ro- 
gers requested permission to open fire. He 
described the Iranians as in attack profile 
and having fired on his helicopter. Neither 
Less nor his command had any idea that 
Vincennes was in Iranian waters, but 

approved the request, believing the ship was 
under attack. 

The Iranian Revolutionary Guard com- 
mander at Bandar Abbas was a young 
firebrand named Ali Fadavi. Bright and cir- 
cumspect, like many guard officers he had 
been a student transformed by war into a 
military commander, and he'd moved 
quickly up through the ranks. An avid sup- 
porter of the revolution, he believed the new 
Iranian fleet of small boats and mining ves- 
sels was a more effective strategy to deal with 
the Americans than the large ships of the 
regular navy. As the senior Revolutionary 
Guard commander in Bandar Abbas, Fadavi 
had orchestrated a number of attacks from 
there on shipping headed to and from the 
Gulf Arabs who supported Iraq. Following 
the drubbing the regular navy had taken in 
April following the attack on the Roberts, Fa- 
davi's mosquito fleet remained the only force 
capable of continuing the tanker war. The 

new aggressive American posture complic- 
ated his operations, so the guards lurked just 
across the exclusion zone border and quickly 
struck passing tankers before the Americans 
arrived. But now the Americans had taken 
their cat-and-mouse game to a new level and 
entered Iranian waters intent on a fight. 

As the American ships closed in, one Re- 
volutionary Guard boat moved down to re- 
connoiter the Vincennes; it passed along the 
side of the large cruiser, its small crew 
crouched low as the two sides stared at each 
other. When the other Iranian boats man- 
euvered to spread out, two boats headed to- 
ward the U.S. warships. Rogers characterized 
this as a hostile act to Less's command, and 
he received permission to defend his ship 
from an attack entirely of the American cap- 
tain's own making. 

At 9:43 a.m., the two American ships 
opened fire. Shells splashed down around 
the Iranian boats, which maneuvered to and 

fro firing their machine guns wildly in the 

direction of the Americans. 15 Nearly one 
hundred shells were fired, and several hit 
home. Two Revolutionary Guard speedboats 
caught fire and sank, while a third was dam- 
aged by a near miss. 

At 9:47, Iran Air Flight 655 took off from 
Bandar Abbas destined for Dubai. Mohsen 
Rezaian held the yoke of the Airbus A300, 
painted in the blue and white livery of Iran 
Air. An experienced pilot, he had flown this 
short, thirty-minute route many times, a reg- 
ularly scheduled flight every Sunday and 

Tuesday.— On this day, a passenger with a 
visa problem had delayed the flight, and Iran 
Air 655 took off twenty-seven minutes late. 
After being cleared by the tower in Bandar 
Abbas and being advised to make sure his ci- 
vilian transponder was set to mode 3, which 
broadcast his plane as a civilian airliner, 
Rezaian lifted off and headed southwest on a 
straight line to Dubai. Rezaian began his 

steady ascent up to fourteen thousand feet 
approximately three to four miles off the 
center line, but well within the twenty-mile- 
wide air corridor. Neither he nor the air 
traffic control tower knew that the flight path 
would take his Airbus directly over the 
Vincennes and the skirmish under way in the 

The Vincennes radar detected the jet tak- 
ing off from Bandar Abbas. A sailor manning 
the radar initially received a military aircraft 
reading (mode 2) on his sensors, likely from 
an Iranian F-14 sitting on the tarmac at 
Bandar Abbas. As the Iranian Airbus took 
off, he mistakenly kept the cursor on the 
plane at Bandar Abbas and not on the one 
taking off. This confirmed in his mind that 
the two were synonymous. Even when the 
ship's system started tracking the Airbus's ci- 
vilian transponder, the ship's anti-air war- 
fare coordinator, Lieutenant Commander 
Scott Lustig, took the initial signal at face 

value, since Iranian military jets often trans- 
mitted using both military and civilian 
modes. Lustig was an affable man, liked by 
Rogers and the reporters who came on board 
with the media pools, but he had never seen 
the stress of combat, and his reaction to the 
stress of the ongoing surface fight in the Gulf 
was noticeable. A petty officer working for 
Lustig consulted the scheduled flights; he 
found none for that time and apparently nev- 
er considered that planes do not always take 

off as scheduled. 12 

In moving north into Iranian waters, Ro- 
gers had placed his ship directly in the flight 
path of the Iranian jet. Lustig passed along to 
Captain Rogers, now engaged in a fight of his 
making, that an F-14 had taken off from 
Bandar Abbas headed in their direction. 

At that moment, a shell casing jammed the 
forward gun on the Vincennes. Rogers 
ordered the ship's rudder hard over to spin 
the ship around so his aft gun could be 

brought to bear on one of Fadavi's boats. The 
Vincennes heeled over. Books, coffee mugs, 
and papers went flying across the darkened 
room of the combat center where Rogers sat 
controlling the fight. In the chaos and ten- 
sion of their windowless environment, men 
grappled with their first experience of com- 
bat. Not all performed well. With an ongoing 
surface engagement and a possible Iranian 
aircraft closing in, an increasingly hysterical 
Lustig became convinced that the Iranians 
were conducting a coordinated air-sea 

David Carlson on the USS Sides watched 
the same aircraft take off from Bandar Ab- 
bas. Stationed to the northeast of the 
Vincennes, he saw the designation of the air- 
craft as an F-14. When it failed to heed any 
verbal warnings, Carlson ordered it painted 
with his missile's radar, a signal any combat 
jet would immediately recognize as a threat. 
When the jet did not alter its course or speed 

but continued its straight, gradual ascent 
without emitting any characteristic electron- 
ic signatures of an F-14, Carlson concluded it 
had to be a civilian airliner. Unfortunately, 
he never passed this along to Rogers, falsely 
concluding that the Vincennes's much more 
sophisticated systems had to show 
something his didn't. Carlson would regret 
his hesitancy. 

As the Iranian Airbus continued to close 
on the Vincennes at 360 knots, more warn- 
ings were broadcast, but no response came 
from the aircraft. Rogers asked again about 
the unidentified plane, using its computer- 
generated target number, 4474. 

"TN 4474 is descending. Speed 450 
knots!" said a petty officer monitoring the 
screen. This proved yet another blunder by 
the Vincennes crew. During an update of the 
radar picture by the Aegis system, the com- 
puter had renamed the Airbus TN 4131, from 
the radar track of the USS Sides. Unknown 

to Rogers, the old number had been reas- 
signed by the Aegis computer to a U.S. jet 
descending to an aircraft carrier in the 
middle of the Gulf of Oman. When Rogers 
asked the question, the petty officer gave the 
right answer, but for the wrong plane. A 
quick look at the radar by anyone in the in- 
formation center would have immediately 
shown that the plane in question continued 
to ascend, had not accelerated, and had 
emitted no weapons radars. But no one 
bothered. Groupthink took hold in the 
darkened command center. It all fit: an F-14 
from Bandar Abbas had taken off to support 
the Revolutionary Guard and was now diving 
down to attack the Vincennes. 

On the Airbus, Rezaian was busy talking to 
the tower at Bandar Abbas and preparing to 
report passing a waypoint, and he coped with 
demands of the cockpit during a short flight. 
Even if his radio had been set to monitor the 
Vincennes' s warning over the distress 

frequency, there was no way he could have 
known that the warnings were intended for 

At ten miles out, with Lustig panicking, 
Captain Rogers had to make a decision. The 
aircraft was not responding to the repeated 

warnings. Having instigated the fight with 
the speedboats, Captain Rogers now found 
himself in a larger engagement than he had 
bargained for. At approximately 9:54, less 
than ten minutes after he'd fired his first 
shells at Fadavi's boats, Rogers reached 
above his head and turned the key granting 
permission to fire. A light flashed on the con- 
sole of the missile operator sitting behind 

"Do I have a take order on TN 4131?" he 

"Yes, take," an officer said. 

Two missiles blasted off, leaving a trail of 
white smoke as they streaked toward the 

airliner. One hit the Iranian Airbus's wing, 
the other its tail. The airplane broke apart as 
the force of the air stripped the clothes from 
its passengers, sending their nude bodies 
raining down on the blue waters of the Per- 
sian Gulf. All 290 souls on Iran Air 655 

"That was dead-on! A direct hit!" shouted 
a sailor on the Vincennes's bridge looking at 
the radar. The crew cheered before being 
told to quiet down by the officer on watch. 
Soon Dubai airport started inquiring about a 
plane overdue, and Rogers noted that Irani- 
an helicopters and even Fadavi's small boats 
had broken off and were headed on a rescue 
mission over to where the plane had gone 

With the information being fed by Lustig 
and his officers, Rogers had made the correct 
decision to fire. He had been told it was an 
Iranian military jet closing in on his ship. Yet 
it had been Rogers's own actions that created 

the situation whereby he had no choice or 
time to reevaluate the approaching aircraft. 
Still, Captain Rogers remained undaunted. 
In the family gram sent out by his ship after 
the incident, it said, "Two burning and the 
rest turning. Vincennes operating in its nat- 
ural environment." It was an oddly boastful 
statement considering what had just 

The navy and the U.S. government closed 
ranks behind Rogers and the Vincennes. To 
Admiral Crowe, the principle at stake was 
supporting a captain who'd adhered to the 
rules of engagement and who had not taken 
the first hit like the Stark. "It was important 
that captains knew that we would back them 
up if they used force to defend their ships," 
he explained in an interview. 19 In a press 
conference after the incident, Crowe said the 
Vincennes had been in international waters 
the entire time— a lie the United States clung 
to until a Newsweek article in 1992 exposed 

the truth. The official investigation by Rear 
Admiral William Fogarty accurately de- 
scribed the details of what had happened, 
but the U.S. government had carefully redac- 
ted key details that showed the Vincennes 
had violated the standing orders and instig- 
ated the fight. The investigation did not re- 
commend disciplinary action against anyone 
on the Vincennes and concluded: "Based on 
the information used by the CO [command- 
ing officer] in making his decision, the short 
time frame available to him in which to make 
his decision, and his personal belief that his 
ship and the USS Montgomery were being 

threatened, he acted in a prudent manner." 22 
In the heat of combat and in the short time 
available for decisions to be made, mistakes 
were made, but not with malice. Essentially, 
the tragedy was a function of the fog of war. 

The U.S. Navy handed out medals. Captain 
Rogers received a Legion of Merit medal, a 
high-level award usually given to a 

commander following a successful com- 
mand, not to one who could be viewed as 
having been responsible for the death of 290 

innocents.— Lustig received a comparable 
medal and went on to get promoted. 

Commander Carlson of the Sides held a 
different view of events than that of the offi- 
cial investigation: "The helicopter drew fire 
because it was a nuisance to the IRGC [Re- 
volutionary Guard] boats. The Vincennes 
saw an opportunity for action, and pressed 
hard for Commander Middle East Force to 
give permission to fire. Deescalation went 
out the window. Equipment failed. The fog 
[of war] rolled in."— 

Iran took its grievances to the United Na- 
tions Security Council. Iran's foreign minis- 
ter, Ali Akbar Velayati, gave an impassioned 
speech in which he produced transcripts of 
the plane's flight recorder, leaving little 
doubt the plane had been a civilian airliner. 
While agreeing to pay restitution to the 

families of the victims, the U.S. delegation, 
led by Vice President George Bush, said Iran 
was the real culprit in the tragedy. Bush 
launched a vigorous defense before the world 
body, one of half-truths and obfuscations, in- 
cluding an assertion that the Iran Airbus had 
been well off the flight path— in truth, it had 
been well inside the designated air cor- 
ridor. 23 The United Nations refused to con- 
demn America's actions. Even within the 
Muslim world, there was little outcry. Only 
Syria publicly supported Iran. The Islamic 
Republic had become so isolated that the 
deaths of 290 civilians failed to move the in- 
ternational community. 

wn July 12, the Iraqi 4th Corps and Re- 
publican Guard attacked along an eighty- 
mile front and in five hours shattered all re- 
maining opposition in the south. Their ad- 
vance continued until they'd penetrated 

some forty miles inside Iran. 24 The intelli- 
gence provided by the CIA and DIA were key 
in Iraq's eventual victory. The resources of 
American intelligence closed opportunities 
for the adaptive Revolutionary Guard. "It 
bolstered the Iraqi military's confidence," 
Pat Lang said. Whether Saddam Hussein 
ever really stood in danger of losing remains 
debatable, but the American intelligence as- 
sistance greatly mitigated the chances of any 
Iranian breakthrough. The DIA's targeting 
allowed the Iraqi air force to knock out the 
key pillars underpinning the Iranian milit- 
ary. The steady stream of intelligence and 
poststrike analysis by Lang's team turned a 
lackluster Iraqi air force into a killing 

Iranian leaders believed the shoot-down of 
the Iranian Airbus had been intended to 
send a message to end the war. Serious dis- 
cussions began about finally ending the war 
out of fear the United States would take even 

more drastic action against Iran. A few days 
after the Iran Air incident, a secret meeting 
was held between the Ayatollah Khomeini, 
parliament speaker Rafsanjani, Prime Minis- 
ter Mousavi, and Revolutionary Guard com- 
mander Mohsen Rezai. Rezai stated that the 
Revolutionary Guard could continue the 
struggle for years, but the others saw things 
differently. They convinced Iran's spiritual 
leader that the choice was "between ending 
the war now, or continuing it and facing the 
eventual destruction of the Islamic Repub- 
lic." 25 They added that the regime was isol- 
ated and confronting an American-Iraqi co- 
alition that would stop at nothing to defeat 
Iran, including using chemical weapons and 
shooting down helpless civilians. They had 
no ability to replace their battlefield losses, 
the economy was in shambles, and the very 
survival of the regime was at stake. Iraqi 
missiles rained down on Tehran, creating 
near panic in the streets. Lacking the same 

missile capability, Iran was helpless to re- 
spond. Large demonstrations had occurred 
in major cities across the country. Khomeini 
agreed there was no choice but to accept UN 
Security Council Resolution 598 and end the 
war with Iraq. The last official attack against 
a Kuwait-bound ship occurred on July 15, 
when two Iranian gunboats attacked the 
Liberian-registered ship Sea Victory with 

rocket-propelled grenades.— 

On July 20, in a statement read on Tehran 
radio, the Ayatollah Khomeini said he per- 
sonally had made the difficult decision to ac- 
cept UN Resolution 598 and end the eight- 
year war with Iraq— a decision he said "was 

more deadly than taking poison." 22 The 
ayatollah's statement followed a July 18 let- 
ter to the United Nations by Iranian presid- 
ent Seyed Ali Khamenei, in which he said the 
war against Iraq had now reached "unpre- 
cedented dimensions, bringing other coun- 
tries into the war and even engulfing 

innocent civilians."— Khamenei went on to 
say that the shooting down of the Iranian 
Airbus had pushed Iran into accepting a 
cease-fire, in the interest of sparing Iranian 
civilians continued suffering at the hands of 
the revolution's enemies. On August 20, the 
cease-fire went into effect and the Gulf grew 
quiet for the first time in nearly eight years. 

vJn a windy day in November 1988, the 
command of Central Command passed from 
General George Crist to army General H. 
Norman Schwarzkopf. The new commander 
was a large, imposing officer with an explos- 
ive temper but a skilled military planner and 
combat veteran. As the cease-fire held, the 
United States began to withdraw forces. On 
September 11, the Vincennes left with little 
fanfare and without replacement. Eight days 
later, Eager Glacier ended and the CIA air- 
craft at Dhahran were sent back to the 

United States. 22 Saudi Arabia briefly con- 
sidered taking over the two mobile sea bases, 
but with the war over, it decided not to. On 
July 11, 1989, the secretary of defense ap- 
proved standing down the Hercules, and it 
was towed to Bahrain, where sailors removed 
U.S. equipment and turned it back over to 
Brown and Root. CENTCOM wanted to resist 
the temptation to rapidly draw down Amer- 
ican forces, a move that would alarm the 
Gulf states about the U.S. commitment to the 
region. 32 On October 2, 1989, President Ge- 
orge H. W. Bush signed National Security 
Directive 26. This presidential directive des- 
ignated the Persian Gulf as an area vital to 
U.S. national interests. The directive noted 
that the United States had achieved an "un- 
precedented level" of cooperation with the 
Gulf states since the operation had begun, 
and that this should be broadened by contin- 
ued joint military exercises, planning, and 
arrangements to pre-position U.S. 

equipment in the area. Immediate termina- 
tion of Earnest Will could jeopardize this 
newfound influence. As a result, Bush direc- 
ted that any change in forces in the Gulf be 
taken only after an interagency review with 
input from political, military, and intelli- 
gence agencies. 

In December, the newly appointed chair- 
man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General 
Colin L. Powell, ordered a review of U.S. 
force structure and the continuation of the 
Earnest Will mission. Powell urged caution, 
concerned about the perception of a de- 
creased American commitment to the Gulf. 
But the Joint Staff proposed U.S. forces 
should be withdrawn down to a baseline 
force of one flagship and five combatants, or 
one warship over pre-Earnest Will levels. 
Schwarzkopf strongly disagreed with these 
numbers. Schwarzkopf pointed out that 
Kuwait continued to provide the U.S. Navy 
with $6 million every month in free fuel— a 

bonus that would end with the convoy mis- 
sion. The United States, he argued, was actu- 
ally making a profit by continuing the cur- 
rent arrangements, and it "is probably the 
only military operation in the world operat- 
ing at a net profit." 31 

In conversations with Powell, however, 
Schwarzkopf finally conceded, saying he 
could live with five combatants. Secretary of 
Defense Richard B. Cheney accepted Powell's 
recommendation to reduce forces in the 
Gulf. The last minesweeper deployed to the 
Gulf for the convoys finally returned in April 
1990, nearly three years after their arduous 
journey to the Persian Gulf. They would re- 
turn to the Gulf a mere four months later, 
when America's former ally Saddam Hussein 
created another new crisis centered around 

1 he final act of the Reagan Iranian saga 
turned into one of the biggest disasters in the 
history of American intelligence. Around 
1985, a new director arrived to run Tehfran, 
Stephen Richter. Slight, with dark hair, the 
Washington, D.C., native had graduated 
from the Naval Academy in 1963. His entry 
in the school's yearbook, the Lucky Bag, 
noted that "he considers himself one of the 
best shower singers in the world." After his 
obligation to the navy, he joined the CIA's 
clandestine service, although he continued to 
proudly wear his large, bulbous Annapolis 

Richter and his boss, Tom Twetten, agreed 
that the rationale for BQ Tug was gone. 
There seemed little reason to maintain two 
dozen men staged to conduct sabotage and 
attacks against a Red Army now bogged 
down in Afghanistan. The operation seemed 
to continue more for the steady payments 

from the Defense Department than out of 
any operational necessity. Richter's prede- 
cessor at Tehfran had proposed the idea of 
converting the Tuggers into standard spies. 
Although they had been recruited to carry 
out paramilitary operations and were neither 
positioned nor trained for espionage, Richter 
pushed the idea, with Twetten's approval. It 
raised no alarms up the chain. 

"The U.S. government was never serious 
about it," said retired CIA officer Jack Dev- 
ine of the Iranian desk. "You have peoples' 
lives on the line and the government's not 
really committed to the operation. That gets 
people killed." 

At this point, the decision to merge the BQ 
Tug assets with the other spies exacerbated 
the CIA's emerging catastrophe. All commu- 
nications with the Iranian agents, now in- 
cluding the Tuggers, were handled through a 
few post office boxes in Frankfurt. The reas- 
on was either laziness or incompetence, but 

it was easier to use an address close to Te- 
hfran rather than a variety of different ad- 
dresses that would require a case officer to 
travel to pick up the communiques. Com- 
pounding this error, every return letter writ- 
ten to those American agents in Iran was 
written by one person, frequently writing the 
letters in English, not Farsi. On at least one 
occasion, all the letters were simultaneously 
mailed to around twenty agents. Each was 
mailed from Frankfurt, written by the same 
hand, with the same return addresses in 

Frankfurt. 32 

Iranian authorities were already wise to 
the BQ Tug effort when several years earlier, 
one perspective CIA recruit had reported the 
contact with American intelligence officers to 
security officials. 

Alerted by the failed recruitment, Iranian 
agents employed countless workers to 
painstakingly screen all incoming mail. They 
could not possibly have overlooked the 

unusual cluster of letters from Frankfurt, 
with some likely destined for suspected BQ 

Tug agents. 33 

In 1987, Stephen Richter became alarmed 
and immediately ordered Reza Kahlili and 
the other agents to use different return ad- 
dresses in other countries. But the damage 
had already been done. When combined with 
the letters to Frankfurt and the merging of 
the BQ Tug operation, these gross errors 
handed Iranian intelligence America's entire 
spy network within the country. 

Captain Touradj Riahi's own actions had 
raised suspicions as well. The man who com- 
promised Iran's attack on Saudia Arabia took 
an enormous risk in 1987 by traveling with 
his wife and daughter to visit his son in 
Honolulu. During that vacation, he appar- 
ently met with his CIA handlers for a debrief- 
ing. Captain Riahi also made a memorable 
visit to Pearl Harbor. In a photograph from 
that day, a smiling Touradj Riahi holds his 

beloved daughter with blue skies and the 
stark white USS Arizona memorial in the 
background. The fact that Pearl Harbor also 
housed the American fleet, then aggressively 
confronting Captain Riahi's own Iranian 
navy in a quasi-war for control over the Per- 
sian Gulf, did not escape the notice of his 
minders back in Tehran. 

The MOIS had been prepared to take ac- 
tion a year earlier, but delayed in hopes of 
catching an even bigger prize: a particular 
American CIA officer operating in nonofficial 
cover, or NOC. In late 1987, Iran intelligence 
read a letter communique from Tehfran to 
one of the Iranian agents saying there would 
be a "new communication system for Iran." 
Although the message was ambiguous, the 
Iranians concluded it referenced an under- 
cover CIA operative, and they hoped to cap- 
ture this very valuable American spy. Iranian 
counterintelligence officers believed the NOC 
was due to arrive under the guise of a foreign 

businessman. Without any public ties to the 
U.S. government, many NOCs spend their 
entire CIA careers pretending to be private 
citizens and never even visit CIA headquar- 
ters. It is hazardous duty. Without embassy 
cover, NOCs lack diplomatic immunity and, 

if caught, could face a death sentence. 34 The 
NOC, however, never arrived. Whether the 
Iranian conclusion was correct is not clear, 
but after the first BQ Tug arrests, Langley 
may have concluded the risk was too great to 
travel to Tehran. 35 

In 1988, an Iranian hit team targeted the 
CIA officers doing the recruitment in Istan- 
bul. To flush them out, Philip Giraldi, outfit- 
ted with a bulletproof vest, went out the 
front door of the consulate, past the usual 
crowd of Iranians clustered around its en- 
trance waiting for visas, and walked down 
the street, trailed by three Turkish surveil- 
lance teams. Two Iranian men emerged out 
of the crowd and followed him. After walking 

about a block, the Turks descended on them 
with guns drawn. They threw the two Irani- 
ans to the ground, removing a concealed pis- 
tol from one of the MOIS agents. 3 ^ 

In September 1988, the Iranian intelli- 
gence service struck. Former BQ Tug agents 
were the easiest to track down. Many were 
simple peasants, and a visit to a dark holding 
cell with menacing interrogators proved suf- 
ficient to get them to talk. When one talked, 
the MOIS would quickly roll up his entire 
team. When coercion failed, they would be 
pinned to a cot and beaten on the soles of 
their feet with a wire rod. Months of solitary 
confinement in dark cells, the monotony 
broken only by beatings, waterboarding, and 
electric shocks, loosened the tongues of 
those who continued to withhold informa- 
tion. 32 

In February 1989, Captain Riahi's eight- 
year-old daughter bounded home from 
school. She put in her favorite video, 

Cinderella, only to discover that the VCR 
was broken, prompting an emotional out- 
burst when her mother arrived home from 
shopping. Just then, four men arrived at the 
front door. Serious and unsmiling, they de- 
manded entry and began methodically 
searching the house while the captain's wife 
and daughter waited nervously in the living 

A couple of hours later, Captain Riahi ar- 
rived home, tired after an hour-long bus 
commute from his office. Two security of- 
ficers greeted him and coolly ordered him to 
accompany them. As his wife began to cry, he 
gave his daughter a kiss and said a quick 
good-bye before being placed in the backseat 
of an unmarked car and whisked away. 

Iran finally went public about the spy net- 
work on April 21, 1989, when Hashemi Raf- 
sanjani, the speaker of the Iranian parlia- 
ment and future president, announced at 
Friday prayers that "several dens of 

espionage" had been uncovered. He was re- 
peatedly interrupted by a large crowd chant- 
ing, "American spies must be executed!" 

"God's decree will be carried out!" Rafsan- 
jani responded. 33 

On April 26, the information minister held 
a press conference and released the names of 
sixteen men in custody, including Captain 
Riahi and air force colonel Masoud Babaii. 
Noting that the CIA recruited its "hirelings" 
mainly from those seeking visas to America, 
he described this tactic as Satan-like, exploit- 
ing the weak elements in a man to force a be- 
trayal. 33 Over the next few months, Iranian 
news reported forty men arrested. A few 
were paraded before the cameras in daily 
news conferences to confess their crimes. 
When questioned about the allegations, the 
White House press secretary denied any 

Iran's public pronouncement was the first 
Langley knew of the spy network's com- 
promise. Philip Giraldi, who had just left 
Iran operations to work counterterrorism, 
recalled first reading of it in the Internation- 
al Herald Tribune. He stormed into 
Richter's office demanding to know what had 
happened, but Richter never answered him. 
Then widows, or soon to be widows, of the 
spies suddenly began arriving at the Americ- 
an consulate in Istanbul and the embassy in 
Ankara pleading for help. The new deputy 
chief at Tehfran, Gary Schroen (who would 
be instrumental in the CIA's paramilitary op- 
erations in Afghanistan after 9/11), and 
Reuel Gerecht scrambled to obtain American 
visas for the women and their children. Cap- 
tain Riahi's wife and daughter were flown 
out of Tehran to Istanbul, and then on to Vi- 
enna and the United States, where the CIA 
settled them in the United States. 

A month later, in May 1989, Iranian state 
television began a four-part miniseries about 
the CIA spy ring entitled Top Secret. Part 
documentary and part propaganda, the doc- 
udrama included tantalizing details about 
the long history of the CIA's meddling in the 
country and of America's desire to oust the 
Islamic regime. Attracting large audiences, 
the show included interviews with the men 
arrested, describing their training and even 
the use of invisible ink to communicate with 
their American handlers. One episode in- 
cluded confessions of a British businessman, 
Roger Cooper, who had been arrested in 
1985 and accused of spying for the British 
government. He had been given the unusual 

sentence of death plus ten years. 42 The series 
repeatedly warned Iranians not to fall for the 
CIA's lies: "The only promises of the spies 
and the intelligence organizations to their 
agents and contacts which are realized are 
betrayal of self, treachery against the 

homeland, regret, and sorrow," cautioned 
the announcer. 41 

For Touradj Riahi's wife and family, this 
was not a TV show but a very real unfolding 
tragedy. His captors kept Captain Riahi in an 
isolated cell in the notorious Evin Prison in 
Tehran. Once a small facility managed by 
Savak under the shah, the prison now 
swelled with several thousand political pris- 
oners—leftists, separatists, and pro-Iraqis. 
Many would be killed in an orgy of execu- 
tions ordered by Ayatollah Khomeini that 
July. Using sleep deprivation and occasional 
fists to the face and body, Riahi's interrogat- 
ors repeatedly questioned him to learn what 
information he had passed on to the Americ- 
ans and to get him to confess his crimes 

He proved a tough man to break. While 
admitting to having passed war plans to the 
Americans, he refused to admit to treason. 
He was tried before a military special war 

tribunal, a proceeding videotaped by the au- 
thorities. Standing in the docket, he re- 
peatedly denied being unfaithful to his coun- 
try. "I remain loyal to Iran," he said, imply- 
ing that the current Islamist government was 
not. Not surprisingly, the testimony never 
aired on Iranian television. 

The guards allowed his family to visit a few 
times. On one occasion, his wife and other 
relatives hoped to get the authorities to re- 
lease him for just one day, on March 21, the 
Iranian new year. Arriving at the prison, the 
captain's wife prompted her young daughter 
to ask that her father be freed for the day. 
The request was denied, but they were gran- 
ted a brief visit in a basement room. 

Captain Riahi looked thin and haggard. He 
did not discuss his plight, but complained 
that he spent most of his days in a dark, win- 
dowless cell. Occasionally, a guard would 
take pity on him and allowed some light to 
read either the Koran or a religious and 

social treatise written by Ayatollah 
Khomeini, both common items in Iranian 

In early November 1990, Iran prepared to 
mark the tenth anniversary of the November 
4 seizure of the U.S. embassy— now a holiday 
called the National Day of Confronting Glob- 
al Arrogance. The government planned a 
massive demonstration in front of the former 
American embassy. Inside the old chan- 
cellery building, the intelligence ministry 
opened an exhibit displaying sixty-eight 
volumes of classified American documents, 
painstakingly pieced together after having 
been shredded by the embassy staff before 
the takeover, as well as pictures and models 
of the helicopters used in the abortive Amer- 
ican rescue raid, and pieces from the Iran Air 
plane shot down by the U.S. cruiser 
Vincennes the year before. Loudspeakers 
serenaded visitors with the confessions of 
the recently captured American spies. 

On the evening before the official an- 
niversary, Iranian television began another 
series with more of the spies on display. They 
included the air force colonel who had 
agreed to work for the CIA for two years in 
return for asylum. Appearing weary and 
gaunt, he began sobbing as he warned Irani- 
ans "not to become entrapped in the spider's 
web of espionage services, because their 
golden dreams will become a hellish night- 
mare." That evening, Captain Riahi was al- 
lowed to briefly speak to his wife, explaining 
that he was being moved to another cell. This 
was an ominous indication for those in Irani- 
an jails. 

The next morning, hundreds of thousands 
of Iranians gathered in front of the old 
American embassy celebrating the takeover a 
decade earlier, carrying signs of the Ayatol- 
lah Khomeini while the streets echoed with 
the roar of "Death to America!" Prominent 

government officials spoke, lashing out 
against the Islamic Republic's enemies. 42 

Riahi's jailors had allowed him one last 
call to his family. He spoke with a younger 
cousin, but neither his wife nor his daughter 
was at home. It would be the last anyone 
heard from Touradj Riahi. 43 

The Iranian government used the an- 
niversary of the seizure of the embassy to 
send a clear message to Washington about 
the fate of its spies. Riahi and three other 
naval officers were escorted to the gallows at 
Evin Prison. The executioners first placed 
the noose around Commodore Kanoush 
Hakimi, who had revealed Iran's sensitive 
arms purchases from China. Riahi was next 
to drop through the trapdoor, then, finally, 
two other junior officers who had also spied 

for the CIA. 44 The next day, the captain's 
family learned his fate when Tehran 

television announced the executions of four 

traitors. 45 

Over the next year, Iranian authorities ex- 
ecuted more than fifty men, including some 

convicted of spying for Iraq and Israel. A 
number of the BQ Tug agents who had more 
menial roles in the CIA paramilitary scheme 
were given minimal prison terms or allowed 
to serve their sentences in internal ex- 
ile—they were not imprisoned but forbidden 
to leave their hometowns without permis- 
sion. 42 

The CIA never held any officials account- 
able for the deaths of twenty agents in one of 
the worst blunders in the agency's history. 
Despite procedural weaknesses at Tehfran 
detailed in the CIA's internal investigation, 
the senior leadership at Langley decided not 
to reprimand anyone or so much as derail a 
single career. Langley viewed BQ Tug as a 
sideshow. The investigation, as one CIA case 

officer remembered, had little consequence. 
"One moment you could find copies of this 
counterintelligence report and the next mo- 
ment they were all gone," he said. 

Giraldi never got over the debacle and the 
needless deaths of the men he'd recruited. 
"We eat people alive, spit them out, and then 
don't give a shit about them afterwards," he 
recalled bitterly. "At the end of the day, what 
did we accomplish? Twenty guys got killed, 
and some people got promoted." He decided 
to put in his retirement papers. 

As the decade ended, Cold War concerns 
gave way to new challenges. The CIA found 
itself in much the same position as ten years 
earlier, with an intelligence network in tat- 
ters and with William Casey's ambition of 
bringing Iran back into the Western fold 
frustrated. Looking forward, it would be loc- 
al potentates— rather than the Red 
Army— that threatened American interests. 
Saddam Hussein's Pyrrhic victory left Iraq 

devastated but with the largest Arab army. 
Iran was bloodied but unbowed. After Iran- 
Contra, Washington politicians remained 
skittish about trying to thaw relations with 
Tehran; however, the Islamic Republic re- 
mained a natural balance to Iraq. There re- 
mained one important outstanding issue: the 
American hostages in Lebanon. But with a 
new, pragmatic Iranian president, there was 
hope that the two nations could leave their 
animosity back in the 1980s. 


Goodwill Begets Goodwill 

vJn Sunday, February 4, 1990, President 

George H. W. Bush returned from a weekend 
at the presidential retreat at Camp David in 
the mountains of western Maryland. After 
changing into more formal clothes, he atten- 
ded a concert in the White House and then 
retired for the evening. Around nine forty 
p.m., a call came through the White House 
switchboard. On the other end reportedly 
was an aide to Iranian president Hashemi 
Rafsanjani calling Bush from Tehran. Bush's 
close friend and national security adviser 
General Brent Scowcroft took the call. The 
man on the other end sounded believable, so 
Scowcroft agreed to another call the next 
evening between the two presidents. 

For the past year, President Bush had been 
working to get the remaining hostages in Le- 
banon released. Bush wanted a rapproche- 
ment with Iran. He believed it served as a 
buffer against Iraq and the Soviet Union, and 
the hostages remained the major stumbling 

block between the two countries. 1 In his in- 
augural address the previous January, he ex- 
tended a major olive branch to the Iranians 
to try to get them released. "Assistance can 
be shown here, and will be long re- 
membered. Goodwill begets goodwill. Good 
faith can be a spiral that endlessly moves 
on." He continued on, hoping to modify Ira- 
nian worries about working with America. 
"Great nations like great men must keep 
their word. When America says something, 
America means it, whether a treaty or an 
agreement or a vow made on marble steps." 

A lot had changed in Iran over the past 
couple of years. The Iran-Iraq War had 
ended. Ayatollah Khomeini had passed on to 

the house not made with hands, replaced by 
Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei, a cleric of no 
particular renown. Rafsanjani now served as 
the new president. A pragmatist who had 
supported the arms-for-hostages exchange 
earlier, Rafsanjani ran construction compan- 
ies in Iran and had a good head for business. 
Quick and clever, he appreciated mammon 
as much as the imam. He understood the im- 
portance of the private sector and wanted to 
limit the size of the government in the eco- 
nomy. Rafsanjani had an open mind regard- 
ing relations with other countries, including 
the United States. He worried that the con- 
stant mantra of "Down with America" was 
both naive and counterproductive. "What 
does this mean?" he once said mockingly to 
an adviser. He worried that the Americans 
would misunderstand the meaning— it meant 
a rejection of American policies, not the na- 
tion, its culture, or its people. 2 Rafsanjani 
sent out feelers to the State Department 

indicating the Iranian president wanted bet- 
ter relations with the West and to get past 
the animosity of the last decade. 

The next evening, Bush picked up the 
phone in his second-floor office. While long- 
serving policy officials Richard Haass and 
Sandy Charles listened in from the Situation 
Room, through a State Department inter- 
preter the American president spoke for 
twenty-nine minutes with a man in Tehran 
claiming to be Rafsanjani. 3 The caller said 
Iran wanted to improve relations and was 
prepared to release the American hostages in 
Lebanon. He supported the effort by United 
Nations secretary general Javier Perez de 
Cuellar to achieve that end. Before hanging 
up, he added that he, Rafsanjani, wanted to 
make a public announcement about the re- 
lease so the world would know that Iran had 
taken the first step to improve relations. 

Unfortunately, President Bush had not 
spoken to President Rafsanjani. After 

hanging up, Bush spoke with a CIA officer in 
Falls Church about the origin of the call, and 
after a flurry of talks with his advisers and 
with de Cuellar in New York, Bush learned 
he had been duped. The caller had been an 
Iranian opposed to any rapprochement with 
the United States. He apparently intended to 
publicly embarrass Rafsanjani. 

The incident served as a disturbing indic- 
ator of the state of relations between the Un- 
ited States and Iran. Not only were the two 
sides not talking, but they struggled to even 
figure out how. Both sides preferred to talk 
through intermediaries, which provided a 
level of deniability. Despite the rhetoric, 
neither country wanted to be the first to pub- 
licly extend the hand. The United States re- 
mained ignorant of Iran, so much so that the 
president of the United States could not even 
differentiate between an official call from a 
head of state and a prank caller. 

1 he American hostages held by Hezbol- 
lah in Lebanon colored the new president's 
thinking regarding Iran. The arms-for-host- 
ages fiasco continued to reverberate. The is- 
sue had been a major political club used by 
the Democrats during the 1988 election. It 
culminated in a testy exchange in January 
1988 when CBS News anchor Dan Rather 
badgered Bush about his support for 
Reagan's arms transfers to Iran. "You made 
us hypocrites before the world," Rather said. 
Bush responded vigorously, citing the de- 
tails of the capture and torture of the CIA 
station chief, William Buckley. "If I erred, it 
was on the side of getting those hostages 

Hostage taking remained a lucrative prac- 
tice in Lebanon. In 1987, ABC reporter 
Charles Glass had arrived to do research for 
a book. An Iranian Revolutionary Guard of- 
ficer who'd learned of his planned visit to 

Sidon drove to a Hezbollah agent's house in 
the southern suburbs of Beirut. The Le- 
banese moved quickly and snatched Glass 
near the airport. For once, the CIA had good 
information, including the license plate of 
one of the cars to be used, but simply could 

not get to Glass in time. 4 That same year, 
Marine Colonel Richard Higgins, a member 
of the UN security mission in Lebanon, was 
captured while driving along the coast to 
meet with a Shia Amal leader. His captor, 
Mustafa Dirani, headed a small group called 
Believers' Resistance, which sympathized 
with Hezbollah. 

The following year, Imad Mugniyah or- 
chestrated another effort to get the seven- 
teen Dawa Party members released from 
Kuwait. This time, Iran showed less enthusi- 
asm for its ally's actions. On April 5, eight hi- 
jackers seized Kuwait Airways Flight 422 as 
it neared Kuwait City on a flight from 
Bangkok. They took control of the Boeing 

747 and forced the plane down in Iran. An 
embarrassed Iranian government ordered 
them to leave and threatened to send in com- 
mandos to storm the plane. The jet then 
headed for Beirut, where Iranian pressure 
resulted in the denial of landing rights. So 
the aircraft set down in Cyprus. When 
Kuwait refused to release the captives, the 
hijackers executed two passengers. When the 
jumbo jet took off for its next destination, Al- 
geria, the hijackers told the tower that they 
had "donned death shrouds and renamed the 
jetliner the 'Plane of the Great Martyrs.'" 

On takeoff from Cyprus, when the air 
traffic controller referred to the jet as 
"Kuwait 422," a hijacker snapped back, "No! 
Plane of Martyrs!" The controller responded, 
"Sorry, Plane of Martyrs." 5 After sixteen 
days, with the assistance of the Iranian gov- 
ernment, the hijackers surrendered. 

While both Rafsanjani and Bush wanted to 
end the hostage quandary, without 

diplomatic relations the two sides were 
forced like schoolchildren to pass messages 
back and forth via intermediaries. The State 
Department's assistant secretary for Near 
Eastern affairs, John Kelly, regularly re- 
ceived messages from Tehran, or those re- 
porting to speak for its government. The Ira- 
nians wanted to meet with an American 
emissary anywhere in Europe, as long as the 
meeting remained a secret. His standard 
reply to these feelers: "We would be happy 

to, but not in the shadows."- Iran consist- 
ently refused. Having been burned by the 
Iranian arms sales, Rafsanjani wanted to re- 
tain plausible deniability for domestic reas- 
ons. He did not want to be viewed as the one 
needing to talk with the Great Satan. 

Washington continued to reach out to 
Iran. One of the Iranian president's close 
aides was an American-educated engineer 
who served as the editor for the Tehran 
Times, Hossein Mousavian. As he heard 

visiting dignitaries reciting a similar message 
from the Americans, he started keeping a log 
of each communication. He noted over forty 
messages to the Iranian president via foreign 
ministers and heads of state, all asking for 
Iran's assistance in releasing those held in 
Lebanon. In every case they came with the 
same refrain: it's time the two countries 
move forward; "goodwill leads to goodwill." 2 

The Bush administration approached the 
United Nations to broker the release of the 
hostages in Lebanon. President Bush called 
Secretary General de Cuellar and asked if he 
could meet with National Security Adviser 
Brent Scowcroft. De Cuellar agreed, and the 
two men met at a home in the Hamptons on 
Long Island. Scowcroft passed along a mes- 
sage from Bush: the president was prepared 
to take a series of reciprocal actions to ease 
tensions and free the hostages. The basis of 
this was the president's inaugural address 
and the notion of goodwill meeting with 

goodwill. Scowcroft asked de Cuellar to de- 
liver the message directly to Rafsanjani. 

The UN secretary general tasked a trusted 
aide to work the discussions between the 
Americans and the Iranians. Italian diplomat 
Giandomenico Picco served as a special en- 
voy to de Cuellar and was no stranger in 
Tehran. He'd first arrived there in 1983, and 
over the years the tall, sophisticated public 
servant had earned the respect of Iranian 
leaders, especially Rafsanjani. He played a 
key role in negotiating the final agreement 
on the cease-fire that finally ended the 
slaughter of the Iran-Iraq War. He had also 
had some experience in working the hostage 
issue, as two UN employees were among 
those held in Beirut. 

On August 17, 1989, Rafsanjani met with 
the Pakistani foreign minister. In response to 
the American mantra, Rafsanjani agreed to 
work to obtain the release of the hostages in 
exchange for some demonstration by the 

United States that it accepted the Islamic Re- 
public. Rafsanjani was keen to put the war 
behind him. Iran needed Western invest- 
ment to rebuild its shattered economy. The 
Lebanese hostages had outlived their utility. 

On August 25, Picco arrived in Tehran for 
his first meeting with President Rafsanjani. 
Javad Zarif, a young Iranian diplomat 
destined to play a larger role in talks with the 
Americans, drove him to the presidential 
palace. Picco met the Iranian president in his 
office, a room Picco described as one of 
"overpowering whiteness, accentuated by the 
afternoon light flooding the room through 

huge windows." As Zarif translated, the UN 
envoy described the sincerity of President 
Bush's offer of "goodwill begets goodwill." 
However, in light of Iran-Contra, Bush could 
participate only in a tit-for-tat exchange. If 
Rafsanjani secured the hostages' release, the 
American president would reciprocate in 

Rafsanjani flashed with anger. He wanted 
action, not words, from the Americans. 
Regarding those holding the hostages, the 
Iranian president replied, "These people are 
not easy to find. They do not have an ad- 
dress." Israel had just seized a prominent 
sheik in Lebanon, and Hezbollah wanted 

him back before releasing any Westerners. 9 
It would be a long and difficult task, Picco 

In November 1989, President Bush took a 
few steps to demonstrate his sincerity. The 
president disposed of an escrow account held 
by the Bank of England from the 1981 Algiers 
Accords to settle claims stemming from the 
hostage crisis. This returned $567 million to 
Iran. President Bush allowed an Iranian in- 
terests section in the Pakistani embassy in 
Washington. While the U.S. government lim- 
ited its size to a staff of only forty-five and its 
function to travel services, it marked a major 
milestone. Thousands of Iranians living in 

the United States could now apply for a visa 
to travel back to the homeland. Last, follow- 
ing the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 
over Scotland, Bush refused to act against 
Iran when early press reports and members 
of Congress such as Benjamin Gilman raised 
suspicions of Iranian culpability. Evidence 
would later point to Moammar Gaddafi as 

the culprit— 

However, Bush continued intelligence 
sharing with Iraq. As emerged during the 
1991 confirmation hearing for Robert Gates 
as CIA director, the president had authorized 
limited intelligence passed to Iraq relating to 
Iranian military dispositions. Just three 
months before the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, 
with CENTCOM commander General Sch- 
warzkopf already planning for a possible 
conflict with Iraq, the CIA gave Iraq informa- 
tion out of concern that ending the intelli- 
gence exchange might close off access to the 

Iraqi military.— Iran knew of this continued 

intelligence sharing through a double agent 
in the Iraqi intelligence service. It only fueled 
suspicion among hard-liners in Iran over 
America's true intentions with respect to the 
Islamic Republic. 

ran soon became a sideshow for the Un- 
ited States in the Persian Gulf. At two a.m. 
on August 2, 1990, Captain (later vice admir- 
al) Kevin Cosgriff s frigate had just dropped 
off a Kuwaiti tanker as part of the Earnest 
Will convoy missions that continued out of 
inertia more than necessity. Thin, intelligent, 
and businesslike, he had several deploy- 
ments in the Gulf under his belt. But that 
night would be like no other. His radar and 
radio lit up with images of war. Waves of 
Iraqi aircraft bombed Kuwait. Helicopters 
landed Iraqi special forces along the coast, 
while columns of Iraqi tanks poured into the 
tiny emirate. As the Kuwaiti air force and 

navy scrambled to get out of the way, Cos- 
griff radioed back to the Middle East Force 
asking for instructions. "Wait out," came the 

"That was not what I wanted to hear when 
a war is breaking out all around me," Cosgriff 
said. The American ship made its way south 
away from Kuwait, with a trail of tankers fol- 
lowing in Cosgriff s wake looking for protec- 
tion. It would be the last convoy operation of 

Earnest Will.— Operations Desert Shield 
and, soon thereafter, Desert Storm were 
about to begin. 

During the eight-month crisis, Iran and 
the United States maintained an uneasy un- 
derstanding. Iran viewed this new Middle 
East crisis as both an opportunity and a chal- 
lenge. Rafsanjani rejected a dubious offer by 
Saddam Hussein to support Iraq in exchange 
for major concessions after the war. Instead, 
he supported the UN sanctions against Iraq. 
Leaders in Tehran united behind removing 

Saddam Hussein, but with some unease as 
the prospect of a prolonged American milit- 
ary presence would threaten their long-term 
goal of regional dominance. 

The United States simply wanted Iran to 
accept the United Nations resolutions and 
stay out of the way. No one in the Bush ad- 
ministration expected the war would lead to 
a breakthrough. "Our policy that normal re- 
lations can be reestablished only after Iran 
helps obtain the release of American host- 
ages without bargaining or blackmail re- 
mains valid," stated a Deputies Committee 
meeting paper penned by Robert Gates. 13 

During the Gulf War, the United States 
maintained regular, indirect contact with 
Iran through Swiss intermediaries. The U.S. 
government passed as many as three de- 
marches a week to Iran during the 
1990-1991 Gulf crisis. This included inform- 
ation about U.S. deployments to Saudi Ara- 
bia and the buildup of naval forces in the 

Gulf to avoid raising alarm in Tehran about 
American intentions. The United States 
asked Iran not to take action should Americ- 
an aircraft stray into Iran's airspace. While 
Iran did not reply, it tacitly agreed: in the 
few instances when a coalition jet strayed in- 
to Iranian airspace, the Iranian military took 
no action. Just before the hundred-hour 
ground war began, Iran relayed through the 
Swiss that an American helicopter had at- 
tacked several Iranian patrol boats, chasing 
them up into the mouth of a river. But Iran's 
protest was muted. It did little more than de- 
mand "prevention of such provocative acts" 
while reassuring the United States of Iran's 

neutrality. 14 The report proved unfounded. 

On several occasions, the State Depart- 
ment received information that an American 
citizen trapped in Kuwait planned to flee to 
Iran. The United States relayed this to 
Tehran, and the Islamic Republic cooperated 

in safeguarding the American's passage to 
freedom. 15 

The war did, however, help Picco and the 
efforts to free the hostages. The Iraqi inva- 
sion set free the "Dawa Seventeen" in Kuwait 
and all had quickly made their way into Iran. 
Held since their bombing rampage in 1983, 
their release had been a major fixation by 
Hezbollah in Lebanon. In April 1991, Picco 
pressed again to secure the hostages. He 
traveled to Damascus, where he met with the 
Iranian ambassador and Syrian military of- 
ficers before flying on to Beirut. Thirty 
minutes after arriving, he received a call 
from the Iranian embassy confirming that he 
had a meeting with Sheik Fadlallah at his 
home in south Beirut. Traveling alone at 
night, a nervous Picco met the Lebanese 
spiritual leader, who greeted him with a 
warm smile. During the ensuing discussions, 
the Lebanese threw his support behind the 
UN effort to free the hostages. While not a 

decision maker within Hezbollah, Fadlallah 
agreed to work with Picco in securing the re- 
lease of all hostages held in Lebanon and 

On August 10, 1991, Picco found himself 
back in Beirut to meet with the hostage 
takers. Iran had arranged the meeting, but 
when Picco met with the Iranian ambassador 
at his embassy, the UN representative asked 
if the ambassador was going to accompany 
him. "Oh, no, Mr. Picco. I don't know these 
people. It's going to be between you and 
thern!" 1 ^ 

At the instruction of the Iranians, Picco 
left the embassy and started walking down 
the street. All was quiet, with only one other 
person on the sidewalk. After ten minutes of 
this unnerving stroll, a Mercedes drove up 
next to him and an occupant pulled him into 
the backseat. The abductors drove a now 
hooded Picco around, eventually stopping at 
a building in south Beirut. They ushered him 

into a room with all the walls covered in 
white sheets. Two masked men came in to 
greet him. After verifying that Picco came at 
the behest of the UN secretary general, the 
two were joined by a third masked man. He 
appeared more confident and had a com- 
manding presence, and introduced himself 
as Abdullah. He was likely Imad Mugniyah. 

The mood lightened and they got down to 
business discussing the various hostages and 
how to arrange a swap of everyone held in 
the region. At the end of the conversation, 
the captors offered to let Picco see one of the 
hostages. Picco insisted on taking one with 
him as a sign of good faith. After some back- 
and-forth haggling, they produced Edward 
Tracy, an American who had traveled to Le- 
banon to sell Bibles. After five years in cap- 
tivity, Tracy's sanity had become question- 
able. He could not remember his name and 
claimed that he ate cordon bleu three times a 

But this small step started a chain that 
eventually led to the release of all the 
Western hostages. Over the next months, 
Picco flew from New York to Cyprus, Beirut, 
and Damascus, meeting repeatedly with 
Zarif and Scowcroft to secure all the host- 
ages' freedom. Iran threw the weight of its 
diplomatic effort behind the talks. But as 
Picco understood, the real broker was the 
masked Abdullah. After an intricate series of 
releases of prisoners in Israel and Lebanon, 
on December 4, 1991, Picco completed his 
mission. The reporter Terry Anderson was 
the last American hostage freed, and later in 
the month Hezbollah turned over the bodies 
of CIA station chief William Buckley and Col- 
onel Richard Higgins. 12 

With Rafsanjani having upheld his end of 
the unwritten bargain, he now wanted re- 
ciprocity. But when it came time for the Un- 
ited States to respond with its own goodwill 
gesture, the Bush administration reneged. 

On the morning of April 7, 1992, Pi ceo flew 
down to Washington to meet with Scowcroft. 
The national security adviser had shown 
signs of backpedaling on his earlier commit- 
ments, but now with Picco in his office, 
Scowcroft came to the point quickly: "There 
will be no goodwill to beget goodwill." He 
then accused Iran of continuing to carry out 
terrorism, most recently the bombing in 
March of the Israeli embassy in Buenos 
Aires, which Iran had carried out in response 
to the Israeli killing of the Hezbollah leader. 
Scowcroft added to the litany of Iranian of- 
fenses the brutal murder of Higgins and the 
killing in August 1991 of former Iranian 
prime minister Shapour Bakhtiar by three 
Iranian agents who'd entered his house in 
Paris and stabbed him and an assistant with 

a kitchen knife. Scowcroft had been leery of 
Iranian regional aspirations. Keeping an 
Iraqi balance against Iran had been an im- 
portant rationale in his mind for not 

removing Saddam Hussein during Desert 
Storm. 19 Iranian support for the spontan- 
eous Shia uprising at the end of the war only 
reinforced his concerns about expanding Ira- 
nian influence. After the war, Bush and 
Scowcroft deliberately excluded Iran from 
the regional peace conference in Madrid, a 
slight that Rafsanjani never forgot. Now, 
with all the hostages out, Scowcroft felt no 
need to honor the American side of the deal. 
It was a bitter blow of duplicity to the Irani- 
an president. 

ricco had the unfortunate task of break- 
ing the news to Rafsanjani. Meeting in the 
president's white-decorated office, Picco 
looked into his eyes and said he had come 
with news of broken promises. No goodwill 
gesture would be forthcoming from the 

Rafsanjani's eyes narrowed. "We have 
taken many political risks in our cooperation 
with you. Not everybody was in favor of such 
cooperation. You understand, Mr. Picco, that 
you are putting me in a very difficult posi- 
tion." The Iranian president then added, "I 
think it is best if you leave Tehran very, very 
quickly. The news of what you told me will 
travel fast to other quarters, and they may 

decide not to let you go."— 

Undaunted, Rafsanjani tried another 

initiative through the Germans. Beginning in 
1990, Iran's ambassador to Germany, Hos- 
sein Mousavian, passed to Washington a list 
of four issues that divided the two nations: 
terrorism, the Middle East peace process, 

weapons of mass destruction, and human 
rights. He relayed that Rafsanjani was pre- 
pared to establish a joint working group to 
resolve these issues as a means to pave the 
way for a rapprochement. The Germans 
came back to the Iranian ambassador with 
the message that the Americans were not in- 
terested in the proposal. 

Rafsanjani never forgave the Americans. 
He could overcome American support for 
Saddam Hussein as a by-product of war. But 
he had hoped to bring about change in the 
postwar world. "It was the first strategic mis- 
take by the United States after the war," said 
Hossein Mousavian. Hard-liners in Tehran 
like Mohsen Rezai seized on the American 
rebuff as proof that the United States was 
not serious about better relations. The Un- 
ited States needed a new enemy after the 
Cold War, he argued, to justify its imperial- 
istic ambitions. Iran served that purpose.— 

Years later, Richard Haass, who worked 
with Scowcroft on Iranian policy, met the 
Iranian foreign minister at a conference. 
When the Iranian heard his name, he 
replied, "Ah, yes. Mr. Goodwill Begets Good- 
will." 22 

n 1993, a new political wind blew into 

Washington. Unlike the man he'd defeated 
for the presidency, William Jefferson Clinton 
arrived in the White House with no foreign 
policy experience. Perpetually late for any 
occasion, Clinton was a career politi- 
cian—both glib and charismatic. He pos- 
sessed an uncanny ability to remember 
people's faces— even those he had met briefly 
months earlier on the campaign trail— that 
charmed many prospective supporters along 
his way to the highest office in the land. A 
quick study, he impressed many senior of- 
ficers, even those who disagreed with his 

policies. The marine commandant during 
Clinton's second term, General Charles 
Krulak, a born-again Christian and a staunch 
Republican, respected President Clinton 
both for his willingness to ask for advice and 
his quick grasp of the complexities of mod- 
ern military operations. 

Clinton shared a common trait with other 
politicians who have occupied the Oval Of- 
fice: a conviction in his own power of persua- 
sion to solve foreign policy challenges. Clin- 
ton believed that he could sit down with any 
leader, no matter how disreputable, and re- 
solve disagreements. In an interview with 
New York Times reporters a week before his 
inauguration, Clinton responded to a ques- 
tion about future relations with Saddam 
Hussein. "I think that if he were sitting here 
on the couch I would further the change in 
his behavior," he said, later adding, "I always 
tell everybody, 'I'm a Baptist; I believe in 
deathbed conversions.' If he wants a 

different relationship with the United States 
and with the United Nations, all he has to do 
is change his behavior." 23 

Clinton's Middle East agenda did not cen- 
ter on either Iran or Iraq. Iran remained dev- 
astated from its eight-year war with Iraq. 
Desert Storm had neutered the Iraqi dictat- 
or, and although still an irritant to the sole 
remaining superpower, he posed no threat to 
his neighbors. The U.S. military maintained 
tens of thousands of troops in the Persian 
Gulf region, keeping both countries in check 
and safeguarding Pax Americana. 

The new national security adviser, a puck- 
ish Anthony Lake, cautioned against trying 
to engage Tehran. His Republican prede- 
cessors had failed miserably in their search 
for the elusive Iranian moderate. Iran re- 
fused to moderate its anti-American stance 
or curb its support for terrorists, so why 
waste time trying to talk with an implacable 
antagonist? 24 President Clinton focused on 

forging a peace between the Palestinians and 
Israelis rather than refighting his prede- 
cessor's wars. 

Clinton threw his efforts behind peace ne- 
gotiations that had been jump-started by 
President Bush after Desert Storm. He 
achieved a public breakthrough in 1993 with 
an agreement, forged during secret meetings 
in Oslo between Palestinian and Israeli dip- 
lomats, that led to the dramatic handshake 
between Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin on 
the South Lawn of the White House. 

Martin Indyk shepherded the Clinton ad- 
ministration's new Middle East policy. The 
London-born, Australian-educated forty- 
two-year-old Indyk arrived at the White 
House as the NSC's senior director for Near 
Eastern and South Asian affairs, having 
served as the research director for the pro- 
Israel lobbyist organization American Israel 
Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Before 
joining the administration, he had served as 

the first director of the Washington Institute 
for Near East Policy, a think tank sympathet- 
ic to Israel, whose intellectual rigor had 
earned grudging respect even from the rival 
Arabist policy wonks inside the Beltway. In- 
dyk played a critical role in all of Clinton's 
Middle East initiatives: he was an ardent 
supporter of the peace process and of build- 
ing strategic alliances with moderate Arabs. 

Shortly after taking office, Indyk headed a 
policy review for the president on both Iran 
and Iraq. It reconfirmed Bush's policy of 
containing Saddam Hussein and included a 
new finding by President Clinton for the CIA 
to try to overthrow the Iraqi leader. 
However, Iran posed a different set of chal- 
lenges. While the pragmatic Iranian presid- 
ent, Rafsanjani, had made overtures for bet- 
ter relations, Indyk believed the Iranian gov- 
ernment showed no real signs of moderating 
its behavior. 

"A consensus quickly emerged that Iran 
was the archetype of a hostile rogue re- 
gime—the most important state sponsor of 

militant Islamic terrorism," wrote Indyk. 25 
Iran's support for Hezbollah, its fatwa to kill 
author Salman Rushdie for his book The 
Satanic Verses, its assassination of a former 
prime minister in Paris, its desire for nuclear 
weapons, and its regional ambitions all sup- 
ported the diagnosis of Iranian recalcitrance. 

Indyk never viewed overthrowing the 
Islamic Republic as a realistic option. "The 
revolution had succeeded in conferring on 
the clerical regime a legitimacy that nobody 
in Iran seemed willing or able to challenge," 
Indyk wrote in his memoirs. The regime had 
legitimacy with the Iranian population, and 
there appeared to be no appreciable opposi- 
tion inside the country.— If there had been a 
robust opposition, no one in Washington 
would have known. The CIA was still recov- 
ering from the exposure of its entire spy 

network just four years earlier and had few 
new assets positioned within the country. 
The agency's best information came from in- 
terviewing Iranian exiles living in Los 
Angeles, many of whom traveled regularly to 
visit family still in the old country. 

Sanctions and isolation seemed the only 
logical way forward to Indyk. The United 
States would maintain its sanctions against 
Iran while pressuring other nations to join in 
Washington's embargo. Eventually, Indyk 
and the president hoped, the Islamic Repub- 
lic would realize the tremendous economic 
cost of its nefarious actions and would mod- 
erate its behavior, perhaps leading to a 

The Israeli view of Iran dovetailed with 
Washington's objectives. Indyk and the pres- 
ident's special envoy for the Middle East, 
Dennis Ross, shared a similar view of Israel 
and the peace process. "We were both strong 
believers in the strategic importance of the 

U.S.-Israeli relationship, convinced that Is- 
raeli deterrence and the possibility of peace 
depended on never allowing a wedge to be 
driven between America and Israel," Ross 
wrote in a 2004 book about the peace pro- 
cess. 22 Both men fervently believed that 
peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors 
would promote American security, bringing 
stability and economic development to the 
region. The more we succeeded in brokering 
comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace, the more 
isolated Iraq and Iran would become; the 
more effective we were in containing the 
destabilizing activities of these two rogue re- 
gimes, the easier it would be for Israel's Arab 
neighbors to make peace with the Jewish 
state, Indyk explained. "It was a neat and lo- 
gical design."— 

Indyk used his old think tank, the Wash- 
ington Institute for Near East Policy, as the 
forum to publicly reveal the results of his 
policy review as part of a wide-ranging 

speech describing the new American strategy 
for the Middle East. On May 18, 1993, at the 
institute's annual Soref Symposium held at a 
Washington hotel, Indyk described the 

strategy as "dual containment." 23 

"Our approach begins with the concept of 
independence between the eastern and west- 
ern halves of the region." The two were sym- 
biotic, Indyk said. Containing Iran and Iraq 
would free the Arabs and Israelis to make 
peace. Then a unified Middle East would 
help strengthen the containment of Iraq and 
Iran. 32 

"Iran is fishing in troubled waters across 
the Arab world, actively seeking to subvert 
friendly governments." Indyk singled out 
Iran's attempts to scuttle the peace process 
through its support of Hamas and Hezbollah, 
and accused Tehran of pursuing nuclear 
weapons and "seeking an ability to dominate 
the Gulf by military means." To counter this, 
the United States would continue economic 

sanctions and pressure Europe and Asia to 
agree to both economic and military restric- 
tions on trading with Tehran. 

"If we fail in our efforts to modify Iranian 
behavior, five years from now Iran will be 
much more capable of posing a real threat to 
Israel, to the Arab world, and to Western in- 
terests," Indyk warned. 31 

Harsh rhetoric by senior officials accom- 
panied the new administration's Iranian 
strategy. In a series of talks around Washing- 
ton, the prim secretary of state, Warren M. 
Christopher, called Iran an "international 
outlaw" for its support of terrorism and its 
opposition to the peace process. Anthony 
Lake penned a confrontational article in For- 
eign Affairs that supported dual contain- 
ment and advocated a strategy in which the 
United States would transform rogue re- 
gimes. 32 

Iran's nascent nuclear program caused 
much tub-thumping in Washington. Israeli 
foreign minister Shimon Peres predicted that 
Iran would possess the bomb by 1999, and 
said that "you can't deter a fanatical terrorist 
state with nuclear weapons." At the same 
Washington Institute conference, Republic- 
an Paul Wolfowitz echoed concerns similar 
to those of Indyk: "The Iranians are em- 
barked on a long-term program to acquire 
nuclear weapons." He added direly, "This 
problem is not yet with us in its nuclear 
form, but, if nothing else changes, it will be 
with us somewhere in the next five to ten 

years. ** 

Many in official Washington shared 
Peres's expectation of an Iranian bomb with- 
in a decade. During his confirmation hearing 
as the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of 
Staff in 1993, Army General John Sha- 
likashvili told the senators that Iran could 
produce a nuclear weapon in eight to ten 

years, or between 2001 and 2003. His state- 
ment reflected current CIA predictions and 
was supported by a recent intelligence com- 
munity estimate. 34 

The new Iranian supreme leader, Ayatol- 
lah Ali Khamenei, had fewer reservations 
than Khomeini regarding the atom. The un- 
covering of Iraq's clandestine nuclear 
weapons program after Desert Storm and the 
seemingly permanent American military 
presence in the region no doubt contributed 
to Tehran's decision to hasten its nuclear re- 
search. 35 In 1991, Iran resumed its nuclear 
power program, looking for European and 
Chinese assistance. Tehran signed an agree- 
ment with China for construction of a power 
plant, and in 1995, after more than a year's 
negotiations, it signed another agreement 
with Russia to complete the Bushehr nuclear 
power plant. But none of this constituted 
proof of a nuclear weapons program, and a 
1992 inspection by the International Atomic 

Energy Agency (IAEA) found no evidence of 
a clandestine program. 

While the CIA suspected Iran's motives, 
intelligence remained scanty, and U.S. as- 
sessments of Iran's nuclear progress proved 
well off the mark. In 2002, when the U.S. 
government had predicted Iran would have 
the know-how to produce a weapon, the CIA 
was predicting Iran was yet another eight to 
ten years away from a nuclear weapon. 

If the dire predictions about Iran's nuclear 
program were inflated, those concerning 
Iran's opposition to the Arab-Israeli peace 
process were deadly accurate. Iran viewed 
peace between Israel and the Arabs as a 
grave threat. It promised to unite both of 
Iran's foes and leave the Persian country 
isolated, just as the Clinton administration 
predicted. While President Rafsanjani still 
hoped for a rapprochement with Washing- 
ton, as onetime candidate for the Iranian 
presidency Hooshang Amirahmadi observed, 

"No Iranian government would allow their 
two enemies to unite or that alliance to de- 
velop." 36 

The Iranian government viewed dual con- 
tainment and the peace process as aimed 
squarely at overthrowing the Islamic Repub- 
lic. Leaders in Tehran tended to see all 
American actions in the region through their 
own lens, and every new deployment of 
American forces in the Gulf was aimed at 
them. With thirty thousand American troops 
in the Gulf, as Middle East scholar and 
former CIA analyst Ken Pollack noted, "The 
radicals— and much of the Iranian popu- 
lace—saw it as further proof of the malevol- 
ent designs and single-minded focus of the 

United States on Iran." 32 

The tension escalated. Israeli aircraft at- 
tacked a Hezbollah training base, killing 
dozens of recruits and several Iranian ad- 
visers. Hezbollah and Iran bombed a Jewish 
community center in Buenos Aires on July 

i8, 1994, killing eighty-five and wounding 
hundreds more. Iran began cultivating 
Palestinian rejectionist groups, principally 
Hamas. A religious fundamentalist group 
with loose ties to the Muslim Brotherhood in 
Egypt, Hamas had emerged during the 
Palestinian uprising in 1987 with a little help 
from Israel, which hoped it would under- 
mine Arafat's power. While the fundamental- 
ists acknowledged and respected Yasser Ara- 
fat, they strongly objected to peace with Is- 
rael as an abandonment of Palestinian 
claims to their pre-1948 homeland. It was an 
unlikely union between Shia Iran and Sunni 
Hamas. Iran had never cared much for the 
Palestinian cause, and Hamas remained a 
local group focused solely on its problems 
with the Israelis. But as Martin Indyk said, 
the east and west halves of the Middle East 
were joined, only now by Iran too. 

One of those dispatched by Hamas to 
Tehran to solidify relations was a twenty- 

seven-year-old chemical engineer, Osama 
Hamdan. The son of a refugee living in Gaza, 
with a close-clipped beard and a kind but 
forlorn expression, Hamdan arrived in 
Tehran in 1992 first as the deputy and then 
as the principal Hamas representative to 
Iran. He spent six years going back and forth 
from his home near Beirut to Iran as one of 
the main negotiators helping to foster Irani- 
an political support for Hamas. Like many 
Arabs living in exile among the Persians, he 
found the Iranians supercilious. He played a 
key role in cultivating Iranian support for 
Hamas, convincing Iran of advantages to 
supporting them at the expense of Arafat's 
Fatah Party. With a polished manner and 
fluency in English, Hamdan developed the 
persona of a rock star as he made the rounds 
of the posh hotels of the Gulf Arab cities. He 
contributed to developing legitimacy for Ha- 
mas among the Arab governments, whose 
natural tendency remained hostile to 

Islamist groups. As a security precaution, 
Hamas separated its political wing in Iran 
from the military, with Hamdan working the 
diplomatic side apart from other Hamas op- 
eratives arranging for weapons and explos- 
ives. Even so, Hamdan maintained a de- 
tailed, although passive, knowledge of their 

activities. 3 ^ 

Osama Hamdan held no illusions that Iran 
really cared about the Palestinian plight. He 
viewed it as a marriage of convenience. The 
ideological and religious ties that bound 
Hezbollah to Iran did not exist with Ha- 
mas. 32 

Support for Hamas afforded Tehran the 
means to strike at the Israelis and expand 
their influence beyond Lebanon. For Hamas, 
Hamdan noted, "Iran provides us the means 
to resist. If more countries supported our 
cause, no one would care about Iran, includ- 
ing us." 42 

Over the next two decades, Iran provided 
both weapons and explosives to Hamas. The 
covert operatives of Iran's Revolutionary 
Guard, the Quds Force, developed an intric- 
ate network to flow arms to Hamas. Iranian 
ships sailed with secret stashes of weapons in 
their holds through the Red Sea, where the 
weapons were transferred to Sudanese 
smugglers paid by Iranian Quds Force of- 
ficers. Traveling by convoys, they worked 
their way up through Sudan and Egypt, from 
which they would be carried into Gaza and 
the West Bank disguised in bags of concrete 
or other innocuous items. This allowed the 
group to wage a terrorist campaign in Israel 
that seriously undermined the peace talks 
and ushered in a hard-line Likud govern- 
ment that had as little interest in reconcili- 
ation as Hamas. Meanwhile, the Revolution- 
ary Guard nurtured its relations with the 
Sudanese, to the point that by 2008 discus- 
sions were under way to establish a 

Revolutionary Guard naval base in Sudan 
that would position Iranian naval forces to 
threaten the other great maritime choke 
point in the Middle East besides the Strait of 
Hormuz: the Suez Canal. 

While Washington remained slow to 
grasp the reality, the strident American 
policy behind dual containment and Iran's 
bloody response to the peace process had 
started a chain reaction that quickly found 
the two countries on the path to war again. 
Neither side understood how its actions were 
being perceived by the other. Miscalculation 
threatened to exacerbate the growing crisis. 

The combination of the Iran-Iraq War and 
the swift American victory over Iraq during 
Operation Desert Storm influenced Iran's 
military thinking. In the spring of 1991, mil- 
itary officers met in Tehran to discuss future 
requirements in light of both the recent war 

in Iraq and their own recent confrontation 
with the U.S. Navy. Although the